With Burnett, Simon and Peace sidelined, young linebackers such as Marvin Mitchell, Jason Mitchell, Omar Gaither, Jon Poe and Ovince Saint Preux got a ton of work in March and April. Their progress was dramatic and encouraging. All appear ready to contribute significantly this fall. The Vols also expect big things from incoming signee Daniel Brooks, who will be thrown into the mix from Day 1.
''There is no question that the talent is there at linebacker,'' Peace said recently. ''We just have to get ready to play together. That will be the key factor for us.''
With the Vols coming off an 8-5 disappointment i n 2002, Peace is determined to help prevent a replay. He's doing everything he can to be prepared when preseason drills arrive.
''Right now I am trying to get ready for August,'' he said. ''As a team we have to get back to a championship level.''
Peace started five midseason games at middle linebacker last fall but missed the season's final four games due to injury. Surgery, rest and rehabilitation should make him as good as new before long.
''Basically, all I have been doing is rehabing my shoulder,'' he said. ''I'm just trying to get it to where I won't have any problems next year. It will be the end of May before I am 100 percent.''
Because the shoulder prevented him from doing any serious weight-lifting the past few months, Peace has concentrated on strengthening himself in other areas.
''I'm doing a lot of leg work ... trying to do a lot of machine work on my legs,'' he said. "I'm trying not to lose anything while I am rehabbing.''
He had better not ''lose anything,'' because there are some talented young linebackers hoping to steal his starting job.