KNOXVILLE — Don't expect to see LaTroy Lewis working on his jump shot or fine-tuning his crossover dribble any time soon.
One moment on the basketball court cost the Tennessee defensive end a season on the gridiron.
As he was solidifying a spot in the Volunteers' linebacker rotation last August, Lewis tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a pickup roundball session.
"Not a good idea," he conceded after Tennessee's first spring practice Saturday.
"It was, nevertheless, a learning experience."
Fully cleared last week for spring drills, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Lewis is working at defensive end, where the Vols are looking for pass-rush help. Tennessee's new staff recruited Lewis, an Akron native, while at Cincinnati, and he said the Bearcats were the first program to offer him a scholarship as a 10th-grader. Lewis still maintains a good relationship with Don Mahoney, his primary recruiter and the Vols' offensive line coach.
"It is early, but again we see a level of athleticism, we see an element of speed, an ability to rush the passer," head coach Butch Jones said. "Where he has to continue to improve is his first three steps off the football. He has to be able to help us gain an edge presence to our defense."
Though he missed most of his senior season with a broken bone in his foot, Lewis preseason camp as one of three freshmen on Tennessee's two-deep chart.
"I was pretty close in there, practicing and rotating with the ones and twos, still learning from the ones but taking reps with the twos," he said. "I felt like I was really getting it early on, but [the injury was] just a minor setback."
Now he's aiming to use his speed-rushing abilities to contribute as much as he can.
"Coach Jones, that's what he wants from all of us," Lewis said. "He wants us all to have the mindset that no matter where we are on the depth chart or what's going on, there shouldn't be too much of a difference between the first, second and third person on the depth chart. I'm just ready to contribute whenever and wherever."
Except on the basketball court.
"Not for the next 10 to 15 years," he joked. "Maybe you'll see me at the YMCA or something."
Brewing at linebacker
Former safety Brent Brewer has returned to linebacker, and the rising senior's there to stay.
"I've known for about two or three weeks by now," he said Saturday. "I've learned a lot of the plays and been in there with the linebacker group just learning the gist of everything. I was a little unsure of how things were going to work, but so far I'm happy about everything.
"I use a lot more of my speed and physicality down there in the box."
Though he started last spring at outside linebacker, Brewer said he really didn't delve too much into the intricacies of reading offensive linemen and tailbacks and primarily used his athletic ability. The 223-pounder said the coaches want his weight between 225 and 230 pounds
"I think he's work in progress," Jones said. "It's been 105 days since we've played football, but you know what, he's bought in and he's done a great job. He's bringing leadership, he's taking coaching, he's extremely explosive, he's quick [and] he's gotten stronger in the weight room.
"I've been really pleased with his efforts. This is a speed league, but also you have to be able to stop the run. He's improved his strength levels, which is great, but he adds more athleticism to our defense as well."
Young and restless
Devrin Young admitted his first practice at slot receiver was more difficult than he expected.
"I'm not going to lie, I thought it was going to be easy at first, but there's a lot of technique and there's a lot that goes into playing wide receiver," said the 5-foot-8, 172-pound Knoxville native who made the move from tailback.
Young said he and the Vols' new staff were on the same page about his switch, which he made shortly after the coaching change with the hope of gaining more playing time.
"They came to me about it, and I was happy about it," Young said. "I get to show how versatile I can be, and it gets me in open space."
Two for 2014
Two of the dozens of prospects on campus to watch Saturday's practice pulled the trigger on verbal commitments this weekend.
The biggest splash came via Twitter on Sunday from Knoxville Webb School safety Todd Kelly, a four-star recruit and the son of former Tennessee defensive lineman of the same name. The nation's No. 59 overall prospect according to Rivals received numerous scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Florida State, Notre Dame and Southern California, among others. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder is the state's second-ranked prospect and the nation's seventh-ranked safety prospect according to 247sports.
Versatile Virginia offensive lineman Coleman Thomas verbally committed to the Vols on Saturday. The 6-foot-6, 298-pound three-star recruit from Fort Chiswell High School is rated as the nation's No. 7 center prospect by 247sports, and he's classified as a tackle on Rivals. Thomas held scholarship offers from Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Wake Forest among others.
Among the dozens of prospects on campus for Saturday's practice were Florida linebacker Dillon Bates (son of former Vol Bill Bates), Brentwood Academy defensive end Derek Barnett, East Hamilton tight end Bailey Lenoir and Cleveland quarterback Austin Herink.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...