April 10, 2008

Hardesty suffers another setback

A spring camp long on growing pains and injuries for Tennessee was dealt another blow Thursday when it was learned that junior tailback Montario Hardesty would be shelved for the remainder of spring with a hairline fracture in his left foot.

UT head coach Phillip Fulmer confirmed the Hardesty injury following the 11th of his team's 15 spring drills.

"Hardesty has a stress fracture. He won't be participating anymore," Fulmer said.
"It's disappointing for everyone. He'll be ready in the fall."

With a sprained knee, Austin Rogers also is expected to be finished for the spring. Rogers participated in post-practice catching drills with other wide receivers Thursday, but coaches want to take a cautious approach with the junior pass catcher.

Seen leaving the Volunteers' Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex with the foot in a protective cast, Hardesty endures yet another roadblock in his Tennessee career. The New Bern, N.C., native tore his ACL in his 2005 freshman season against Ole Miss but bounced back to appear in all 13 of the Vols' games the next season, starting five.

Hardesty recently told VolQuest.com, following the team's first scrimmage, that he felt as healthy as he had been since high school. "Almost" like starting college again, he said.

Now, it's another setback in a crowded UT backfield for Hardesty, who missed time each of the last two seasons with injuries. He has 775 rushing yards on 202 career attempts.

"Anytime, it's like right now you're preparing to win championships so any opportunity you get to scrimmage, that's priceless opportunities," tailbacks coach Stan Drayton said. "Montario's missing a lot, and he realizes that. That's why you see the frustration on his face right now. He realizes that he needs to be in those scrimmage situations and playing some. There's no substitute for it, but we turn it into a positive around here.

"When someone goes down, somebody else needs to pick it up. That's an opportunity for us to be able to learn something that we might not have been able to learn."

Though Drayton said he had already seen flashes of Hardesty's promise through the opening half of spring, the first-year Vols coach noted it's important for Hardesty to stay mentally prepared with freshman Tauren Poole and sophomore Lennon Creer sliding up the depth chart.

"You know he's frustrated. He wants to be out there and he wants an opportunity to start, and he feels like this is another hurdle in the road," Drayton said of Hardesty's state of mind. "I wasn't around Montario in the past when he had these roadblocks, but the way he's handling it right now is that he's trying to turn himself into a student of the game.

"This is an opportunity to stand around practice and watch and pick up a script and learn and see what other positions are doing right now. I think that's all constructive and positive stuff that he can learn from and still improve his play."

VEREEN ADJUSTING: Redshirt freshman Daryl Vereen said he's taking his switch to safety in stride, despite not having played defense since middle school. The 6-foot, 200-pound Charlotte native was moved from tailback to second-string safety earlier this week.

"I just look at it as a good opportunity," Vereen said. "I'm picking up on it real easy, and I'm learning it real good. So probably maybe a week or two (before feeling comfortable)."

Vereen said defense wasn't an option in high school.

"(I) never played safety in high school; I was on the practice squad in high school on defense," he said. "Coach didn't want me to play, but I'm picking it up easy."

Fulmer concurred.

"He went from the fourth-team tailback to the second-team safety in one move," Fulmer said. "That's just an example of getting a good athlete on the field. He's picking it up pretty quick and we're going to give him a chance to play over there."

And what has Fulmer learned in the brief time of Vereen's transition?

"I know that he'll hit you and I know he can run, it's just a matter of him learning the coverages," said the coach.

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