Backup linebackers look good

The Orange and White game will not be remembered as a defensive struggle by any means, but the backup 'backers did well in their roles this past Saturday.

Even with projected starters Kevin Burnett, Kevin Simon and Robert Peace sidelined by injuries, Tennessee's linebacking corps looked pretty good Saturday as the Orange hammered the White 69-7 in the Vols' annual spring game.

Jason Mitchell, who started the last four games of 2002 on the weakside and could crack the 2003 lineup with a good August, registered four tackles and five assists.

Junior college transfer Jon Poe added four tackles and two assists. Omar Gaither showed a knack for the big play, registering a tackle for loss and a sack among his four stops. Marvin Mitchell, who can play the strongside or middle, chipped in a tackle and two assists.

A pleasant surprise was the play of end-turned-linebacker Ovince Saint Preux, who led all tacklers with five solos and five assists.

The play of the defensive line was encouraging. End Parys Haralson recorded four tackles (including a sack), two assists and a pass breakup, underscoring head coach Phillip Fulmer's comment that he is ''all over the field.''

Tackle Mondre Dickerson, counted upon to be the foundation of UT's defensive line, registered three tackles, three assists and a sack.

End Karlton Neal registered just two stops but both were sacks.

The secondary enjoyed a productive day, as well. The best numbers belonged to safety O.J. Owens (5 tackles, 2 assists), cornerback Jason Allen (5 tackles, 1 assist, pass breakup and 34-yard interception return for TD), cornerback Antwan Stewart 3 tackles, 3 assists, 1 tackle for loss) and safety Shannon Benton (1 tackle, 2 assists, 27-yard interception return for TD and 1 pass breakup).

Overall, UT's defense performed pretty well. The outlook is further brightened by the fact that joining the cast in August will be such key players as linebackers Burnett, Simon and Peace, tackles Justin Harrell and juco transfer Zarnell Fitch, end Constantin Ritzmann, safety Rashad Baker and cornerbacks Jabari Davis and Robert Boulware.


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