The Vol stop units gave up yards grudgingly all day and produced most of the afternoon's big plays. Freshman safety Janzen Jackson intercepted an overthrow by No. 2 quarterback Nick Stephens and made a 40-yard return midway through the workout. Redshirt freshman safety Rod Wilks stepped in front of a quick out by Stephens and raced 20 yards for a touchdown near the end of the session.
"It was a pretty dominating practice by the defense today," head coach Lane Kiffin said. "It was really good to see our defense play that way the whole day. It reminded me of the way we were playing in the spring when we were at our high point. It was great to see."
The return of nose tackle Dan Williams from the injured list seemed to provide a lift for the first-team defense, which is perilously thin at tackle.
"Dan Williams being back out there helped, I'm sure," Kiffin said. "I was very pleased with the intensity. Our defense definitely played more physically than our offense today."
Although Williams is back in gear, two potential starters - weakside linebacker Rico McCoy and cornerback Brent Vinson - remain sidelined. With the Sept. 5 opener vs. Western Kentucky barely three weeks away, the Vols need both players back on the practice field as soon as possible.
"We talked to guys about battling back," Kiffin said. "You can't move up on the depth chart and get more playing time sitting on the sidelines. There's a line there of when guys can't practice and when guys can, so we always want push guys when they can to do as much as they can. It was good to have some guys back today."
TIGHT BATTLE AT TIGHT END
Appropriately enough, tight end may be the tightest position battle on offense this preseason. Senior Jeff Cottam (6-8, 260) of Germantown and junior Luke Stocker (6-6, 245) of Berea, Ky., have dropped some passes but both are providing the type of physical play that UT coaches demand.
"I see a really good competition between them," Kiffin said. "It would change daily who would be the starter right now, so that's exactly how we want it. I think that's definitely made them both better. Both are definitely playing better than they were in the spring, and they're playing better in the run game especially."