KNOXVILLE — Tennessee defensive end Darrington Sentimore has a slight advantage over teammates in learning defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri’s defense.
That’s because he’s been in it before.
Sentimore played under Sunseri at Alabama in 2009 and 2010 before he left the Tide and headed to Gulf Coast (Fla.) Community College. After one year there, he found his way back to Sunseri. This time the two reunited with the Vols. Now the junior defensive lineman is making his way up the Vols’ depth chart after leaving the spring on the second team.
“Right now I’m with the first team defense and I’m trying to stay with them,” Sentimore said. “I can play the run and I can convert to pass. Coach Sal has been teaching me a lot of things.”
That versatility to defend the run and the pass is what Sentimore believes gives him an edge over his primary competition, senior defensive end Steven Fowlkes. Sentimore, who has slimmed down to 280 pounds after playing the spring around 290, holds a size advantage over Fowlkes by approximately 25 pounds.
Despite his weight advantage, Sentimore improved his conditioning and cut his body fat down over the last few months. Coach Derek Dooley saw huge strides made by the Norco, La. native this summer.
“He is doing really good,” Dooley said. “He’s been very active. (He’s) shown really encouraging signs as far as his conditioning level, weight and ability to strain. All those things we were concerned about in the spring.”
Rivera injured, Ayres to tight end: Senior tight end Mychal Rivera will miss at least a week with a sprained knee, Dooley confirmed after practice on Tuesday.
Losing Rivera is another blow to the depth of the tight end position. Sophomore Cameron Clear was dismissed from the program in May after being arrested for theft. Freshman Justin Meredith is practicing but has been bothered by a lingering hamstring injury.
The Vols have already brought freshman linebacker Justin King over to offense to help. Former defensive tackle Joseph Ayres is the latest defensive player to get a shot at tight end.
“We’re thin at that position and we’ve got a lot of d-linemen,” Dooley said. “We’re looking on the board to see who can help us. I think he can really give us a little value, especially as a bigger, physical guy who can help us block.”
Ayres, a senior who attended the McCallie School, has appeared in 20 games as a defensive tackle in his career. He’s always been slightly undersized for the defensive interior, making him a good candidate for tight end.
Rogers and Gordon excused from practice: Wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers and cornerback Eric Gordon were excused from practice on Tuesday to attend class. Tuesday was the final day of summer term for all students at UT.
Dooley indicated that several players need to finish strong in the classroom this summer but didn’t say if any were in immediate danger of being academically ineligible.
Practice observations: A few quick-hitting observations from Tuesday’s open practice period:
• With Rogers missing practice, junior wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson worked with Justin Hunter on the first team.
• Hunter, Patterson, Devrin Young and Quenshaun Watson were among the players practicing fielding punts in practice. Young was the team’s leading punt returner in 2011 with an 11.8-yard average per return on eight attempts.
• Freshman running back Davante Bourque was held out for the second consecutive day. The 6-1, 210-pound freshman running back has a stinger or whiplash issue, Dooley said.