Backers to the future

Thanks to a 2-4 record and an open date, Tennessee's football present is a bit gloomy. The program's future is a bit brighter, though, thanks in part to a couple of promising freshman linebackers.

John Propst recorded six tackles in last Saturday's loss at Georgia. Classmate Raiques (pronounced Rah-KEES) Crump added three stops and a fumble forced.

Propst, a 6-1, 220-pounder from Hoover, Ala., is stuck behind senior Nick Reveiz and junior Austin Johnson at middle linebacker but may be closing the gap on them a bit.

"He's coming along great," Vol linebackers coach Lance Thompson said this week. "He's a really smart football player and really works at it. He obviously had the benefit of playing in a really outstanding program at Hoover High but John is a very diligent guy and he's really progressing well."

The age-old stereotype of linebackers as "mobile, agile and hostile" is still accurate but a quick mind is just as important these days.

"Intelligence and instincts are the two most important characteristics when you're trying to identify what makes up a good linebacker," Thompson said. "Size, speed, athleticism, contact, toughness and all of that is absolutely critical, too, but in this day and age if you don't have intelligence and instincts you can't play."

By all accounts, Propst has exceptional intelligence.

"John's a very smart guy," Reveiz said. "He's an engineering major, if that doesn't tell you something."

A sharp mind is especially vital for a middle linebacker, since he typically calls the defensive signals and makes sure everyone is lined up correctly.

"John Propst is very cerebral, knows how to make checks," Reveiz said. "He's a young guy but he's confident in what he can do, so that's the biggest thing as a middle linebacker. You're not always going to be right but if you've got everyone on the same page and the same call and you're confident about it, then no one's going to doubt you."

Crump, a 6-2, 227-pounder from Birmingham, is pushing sophomore Herman Lathers and senior Savion Frazier for playing time at weakside linebacker.

"He's coming along great," Thompson said. "I'm really excited about Racques. He's a physical guy - he's up to 227 pounds - and he's like a cat. We're all really excited about Racques and his future here."

Further enhancing Crump's stock is the fact he also can play strongside linebacker.

"He could be either one but right now we have him playing the Will position," Thompson noted. "He's intelligent, he's instinctive and he's a mean-ass."

Yet another freshman linebacker from Alabama - 6-2, 225-pound Martaze Jackson of Demopolis - is turning some heads with his stellar work in practice.

"Martaze (pronounced mar-TEZ) is a player we're redshirting but he has won Scout Team Player of the Week twice," Thompson said. "He's giving great effort. He's very physical. He's what we need. We just need to get him bigger."

Jackson played defensive end in high school but will play a hybrid linebacker/end position for the Vols.

"He's making the transition," Thompson said, "but he's still going to be used as a third-down pass-rush type that's got some burst off the edge. I've watched practice tape, and he does a great job off the edge."

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