KNOXVILLE – If all of the incoming 2013 freshmen had been ranked in order of importance for this season when they signed, Corey Vereen probably wouldn’t have been at the top of the list.
Ranked as a three-star linebacker out of high school, he had a decent offer list, but wasn’t coveted by all the top programs.
He arrived with little fanfare, but turned a few heads when the coaches tried him at defensive end during spring practice. He made enough progress to work with the second team at the start of fall camp before going down with a knee injury. After weeks of rehab, he made his college debut at Florida on Saturday. He was only used as a situational pass rusher, but he drew rave reviews for his limited work.
"Well Corey had seven snaps on Saturday and they were a very productive seven snaps,” said coach Butch Jones. “Just having him back on the field gave us another edge presence. You could see the difference on the get off, he impacted the quarterback on a number of plays.”
It wasn’t a perfect debut. He was flagged for lining up offside on one play. But his presence was felt. On one second quarter play, Vereen put some heat on Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy, who threw a quick pass in the flat that caused the receiver to get hit quickly and fumble the ball. On other instances he got enough pressure just to rattle Murphy enough to hurry-up his decision making.
Expect his role to expand rapidly as he continues to get his knee back to 100 percent.
“We anticipate, obviously with his health, he'll play more plays this Saturday as he continues to progress,” Jones added.
His coaches and teammates like what they saw on the field, but it’s his commitment off it that has them really buzzing about the 6-foot-4, 250-pound native of Winter Garden, Fla.
“Just his whole mindset is what we want here,” said Jones. “All you have to do is tell him one thing, if I say `hydrate, here is a gallon of water' he'll go drink two gallons of water. He is hungry for greatness. He has that inner drive that the special players have. He's always in watching extra film.
“There are a couple days I'm going home and I look out in the indoor and there's a guy running sprints and it's Corey Vereen. It's important to him. He's a good student, he does everything that we ask of him.”
• Out: WR Devrin Young, TE Alex Ellis, DT Trevarris Saulsberry, TE Justin Meredith, TE Joseph Ayres, WR Ryan Jenkins, QB Nathan Peterman
• Limited: TE A.J. Branisel, S Brian Randolph. LB Raiques Crump, WR Vincent Dallas, CB Riyahd Jones, S Max Arnold, LB John Propst, WR Johnathon Johnson, WR Cody Blanc
• The cornerback position is getting healthier. Junior Riyahd Jones returned to practice, albeit in a non-contact jersey, for the first time since suffering a leg injury in fall camp. Walk-on cornerback Michael F. Williams was also back going through drills. Williams was getting first-team reps alongside Justin Coleman at one point in practice.
• As expected, junior quarterback Justin Worley worked with the starters and true freshman quarterback Riley Ferguson was working with the second-team offense. True freshman Joshua Dobbs had a scout-team jersey on, simulating South Alabama quarterback Brandon Bridge.
• Former head coach Phillip Fulmer was a guest at practice.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga