KNOXVILLE – Spring practice can turn into more of a lab for coaches who are looking to find the right mix of players and positions as they head into the summer.
Coach Butch Jones has certainly done some experimenting over the past few weeks for the Vols. The latest test involved defensive end LaTroy Lewis getting reps at tight end on Thursday.
“We’re experimenting right now,” Jones said of Lewis working on the other side of the ball. “That’s what spring is for. We’ve tried LaTroy Lewis a little bit at tight end – just experimental in position drills.
"Same thing with [DT] Jason Carr and offensive line – it’s just seeing what they can do and then we’ll let them have the Orange and White Game and we’ll see where we’re at with the development of our football team once June rolls around and then we’ll make some determinations positional-wise when we get to August camp.”
Moving to the flip side of the ball is a fairly drastic measure for a player who has spent most of his career on the other, but not all positions swaps are that much of an overhaul.
There have been a lot of tweaks in the defensive front seven especially. Curt Maggitt has seen a lot of work at defensive end after previously focusing on outside linebacker. Newcomer Dimarya Mixon has bounced around from defensive end to tackle. Jakob Johnson has moved from linebacker to end.
“[Johnson’s] been with me a couple days – it’s kind of an experiment,” said defensive line coach Steve Stripling. “I love him. He’s going to get huge. He’s got a great attitude and he’s out there battling.”
Another recent development on the defensive front is defensive end Jordan Williams sliding down to tackle in some pass-rush situations. The Vols are always looking for ways to get more athleticism on the field and with a lack of true defensive tackles currently on the roster, the 275-pound Williams gives them some flexibility.
“I’m enjoying it,” Williams said. “Hopefully I can get up to about 280-285 and I feel good carrying the weight. To have that flexibility – when Curt was out one weekend, I just played end the whole time and I was comfortable there too, so it’s good.”
Perhaps one of the most successful position flips this spring has been returning Devrin Young to running back after a season of playing slot receiver. Young has been a standout player the last couple of practices – making several big plays running the ball and catching it out of the backfield.
It’s a crowded position with Marlin Lane returning and the addition of Jalen Hurd and newcomers Derrell Scott and Treyon Paulk coming in over the summer, but Young has been satisfied with the move.
“I’ve been pretty happy with the transition,” Young said. “It’s not like I went to a different position that I didn’t know. I felt pretty comfortable. The biggest thing was just learning the standards and performing up to expectations of the position that the coaches want me to.”
• Out: WR Ryan Jenkins, DT Trevarris Saulsberry, TE Brendan Downs, TE A.J. Branisel, S Brian Randolph, WR Drae Bowles, WR Jacob Carter, DE Malik Brown, DE Jaylen Miller
• Limited: DT Jason Carr (large cast on hand), OL Austin Sanders, DB Max Arnold
• Punter Matt Darr had a nice kick during a live rep with the first-team punt coverage unit. He kicked it over returner Devrin Young’s head, forcing Young to backpedal and then drop the ball – which pushed it back further before Young eventually jumped on it. The punt netted approximately 60 yards.
• Cornerback Malik Foreman had a couple of nice plays during a seven-on-seven drill. He fought through a blocking wide receiver two plays in a row to help set the corner and help the defense make a play on short passes that came to his side.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga