For the first time this season, Herman Lathers practiced Tuesday morning for the Volunteers.
Wearing a green non-contact jersey, the junior linebacker saw his first live action since breaking a bone in his foot in the summer. He was also sidelined all of spring practice rehabbing from off-season shoulder surgery.
“Herman got some good scout team work today,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “I wouldn’t say he’s full-blow ready to go but it was good to see him get his pads on and take a couple of hits. We’re just kind of monitoring day by day. He’s not close to 100 percent. We don’t want to get too excited.”
Heading into the year, Lathers was expected to be a leader for Tennessee’s defense, but his return, even in a limited role, was a boost for the Vols, who are currently in a four-game losing streak.
“Everyone’s spirits are up,” senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “We’re working hard and coach Dooley says we’ve got four more games and it can change our whole season. We’re going to go out and have one-game seasons and try and win them.”
Hunter talks
Another player sidelined with an injury is sophomore receiver Justin Hunter, who is out for the rest of the year after tearing the ACL in his left knee against Florida on Sept. 17. Hunter is “a little ahead of the game” in terms of his recovery and expects to be back on the field in the middle of March, in time for the Vols’ spring practice.
“I’m ready for him to get off the crutches,” Dooley said. “That will make me feel better when he’s walking around, but every indication I’m getting is that he’s recovering well. He’s staying around the team. He brings good energy around the guys. That’s important.”
 While Hunter has been a positive influence on his teammates, he admits it’s been difficult for him to see the team struggle, especially on offense.
“It’s real hard, just sitting on the sidelines and watching,” Hunter said. “Sometimes I don’t even want to go to the games because I know if I can’t help them, it’s not my way to do it. I just try to lift them up as best I can and help them out.”
 Young’s role growing
Freshman Devrin Young has provided a spark for the Vols in the return game, and with the offense struggling in recent games, the Knoxville native could see more touches on offense.
“I just see myself being used how a small guy gets used in an offense,” Young said. “Just (my) speed and getting to the perimeter. Coach Dooley talks about our role and you get what you earn, so I’m just working hard and hopefully I can increase my role.”
The issue for coaches is getting Young acclimated to the college game. Young missed all of fall camp and the first two weeks of the season after breaking his collarbone in early August.
“What was tricky about Devrin was I didn’t really see him do anything until the week of the Florida game in practice,” Dooley said. “He looked what we thought he was going to look like when we signed him that week and I just wanted him to get two weeks of practice before we put him out in a game. Of course, the first time he touched it, I said, ‘That’s what we were wanting.’ He’s gotten better each week. But he’s also going to be like this a little bit because he’s learning how to prepare.”