Spring Breakdown: Outside Linebackers

InsideTennessee brings you a 10-part series of position battles heading into spring practice. Be sure to come back to InsideTennessee for all your Volunteer athletics information .

New Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri is on the cusp of implementing his defense into the framework of Derek Dooley's football team.

While Dooley continues to describe the Vols' new defense as "multiple" there is no question that Sunseri will be bringing his new 3-4 defense to Rocky Top and with that scheme comes new positions and battles.

When it comes to outside linebackers, barring injury or unforeseen circumstances, there is no doubt that true sophomore and monster Curt Maggitt is penciled in as one of the two starters on the edge for Sunseri.

Maggitt notched P.T. in 11 of 12 games, started eight games at SAM linebacker as a true freshman and finished tied for third on team with 56 tackles (29 solo). He also ranked second among all SEC freshmen with 5.1 tackles/game behind teammate A.J. Johnson.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder was ranked as a four-star player and the No. 19 overall outside linebacker in the country by Scout.com and has done nothing but live up to the hype.

Now the question becomes who will shadow Maggitt on the opposite end of the new 3-4 look in Sunseri's defense? There is a crowd of options starting with newly healthy redshirt senior Herman Lathers.

Tennessee linebacker Herman Lathers
Lathers, a 6-foot, 220-pounder, was sidelined in 2011 by an ankle fracture suffered early last June in offseason workouts. He returned to practice in a limited role near the end of the season, but was unable to reach the field in the final weeks of the season.

Lathers brings experience that many others on the list can't, having seen time in 25 games during his career and racking up 64 solo tackles, 116 tackles, three sacks and eight tackles for loss in two seasons. His most productive season came in 2009 when Lathers was named Freshman All-SEC Coaches and Sporting News.

If fans had forgotten about Lathers, chances are redshirt junior Greg King wasn't even a thought in their minds. King, who has played in 10 games, notched 28 tackles, two tackles for loss and one interception, only found the field for one game in 2011 and that came in on special teams at No. 16 Florida.

The Memphis, Tenn., native battled a knee injury the majority of his junior campaign. Since starting in nine games during his freshman year, including two starts, King has been largely unheard from since.

Then there are a couple of true juniors and special teams contributors in Dontavis Sapp and Raiques Crump. Both have excelled in kickoff coverage and it is no secret Dooley is a fan of teams players. At 6-foot-2, 219 pounds and 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, respectively, both Sapp and Crump have the physical attributes, but will need to pick up on the new scheme quickly to be a factor.

Mix in former five-star prospect and Ooltewah, Tenn., native Jacques Smith. That's right, defensive end Jacques Smith. Smith is the kind JACK position backer that 3-4 defensive coordinators drool over.

At 6-foot-2, 255 pounds, Smith could back off the line and rush the quarterback from the upright position. After being voted as a member of the 2010 Coaches Freshman All-SEC team, the junior has gone quiet.

A position change for the former No. 8 defensive end (Scout.com) could be just what the doctor ordered.

Jacques Smith (55), Curt Maggitt (56)

Chris Price is a staff writer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously an intern for the site for two years before graduating from the University of Tennessee. He joined the InsideTennessee team in 2009.

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