KNOXVILLE -- Corey Vereen came close to registering a sack on the first snap of his collegiate debut.
Given the Tennessee freshman's current trajectory, that first one can't be too far away.
Six weeks removed from knee surgery, the defensive end only played seven snaps in the Volunteers' loss at Florida last week, but he seemed to make his presence felt on a couple of them, including the first one where he flushed Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel out of the pocket, where linebacker Brent Brewer was waiting to bat down the third-down pass at the line.
Playing 100 miles from his alma mater, West Orange High School in Winter Garden, Vereen probably was chomping at the bit to play more than he did, but Tennessee didn't want to put too much too soon on perhaps its most explosive edge rusher.
"There is a master plan with him," Vols defensive line coach Steve Stripling said after Wednesday's practice.
"He's a work in progress, and obviously he was out for quite a while. We're knocking the rust off, getting him sound, getting him better and getting him closer to [being] more of a bigger part of the game plan."
Stripling added that he expected Vereen's snap count to "take a significant jump" on Saturday, when Tennessee hosts South Alabama.
The Vols' coaching staff has raved about Vereen's approach, work ethic, attitude and ability since he enrolled in January, and it was a blow for Tennessee not to have him for the first three weeks.
His quicker-than-expected return from surgery to repair a torn meniscus only furthered how Vereen's coaches viewed his intangibles.
"It's the same thing. To be honest, I think with his type injury, this is the quickest I've ever seen anybody come back," said Stripling, who began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Colorado in 1977.
"So that just goes with his mentality of preparation. He takes care of his body, and he's probably getting five treatments a day. It's just all his attitude. It doesn't surprise me that he's back this early."
As Vereen continues to regain his health and conditioning, he'll play more. Tennessee's defense has six sacks through four games, which puts them on pace to finish with 18 after the Vols finished with 17 last season.
With the meet of the SEC schedule still ahead, Tennessee will need its pass rush to step up its production and its consistency, and Vereen should help that.
"Corey had seven snaps, and they were a very productive seven snaps," first-year head coach Butch Jones said earlier this week. "Just having him back on the field gave us another edge presence. He impacted the quarterback on a number of plays. We anticipate obviously with his health he'll play more plays this Saturday as he continues to progress.
"Just his whole mindset is what we want here."
Allow Stripling to illustrate Jones' point.
"The fact that the first day trainers said he can take a couple of snaps, he's jumping in every huddle wanting to take every rep," he said. "That's typical Corey. Like I've said, we've got to stick to the plan, and he'll be ready to go."
"If I tell him to hydrate, here's a gallon of water," said Jones, "he'll go drink two gallons of water. He is hungry for greatness. He has that inner drive that the special players have."
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 ...