Tough break

Spring practice is barely a week old but Tennessee already has seen a potentially key player suffer an apparent knee injury. Sign in or subscribe now to read more.

Redshirt freshman Christian Harris loves Tennessee's new 3-4 defense. It's too bad he may not get to play in it this fall.

Harris, a 6-foot-2, 240-pounder from Etowah High School in Woodstock, Ga., reportedly suffered a knee injury this week that clouds his availability for the 2012 season.

Interviewed earlier this week, Harris clearly was upbeat as he discussed the new defensive staff and new defensive scheme the Vols are adjusting to this spring.

"I see that as a positive," he said. "Everyone gets a chance to show themselves. I guess there's not really any favorites (for starting jobs) because there's new coaches and stuff."

Harris filled the middle linebacker role in a 4-3 defense as a high schooler and as a practice performer at Tennessee last fall. Given this background, he understandably had some concerns about the switch to a 3-4. One week into spring ball, however, those concerns had been alleviated.

"In high school I ran a 4-3, so I wasn't sure how it was going to work out," Harris admitted. "But now I feel I like the 3-4 better."

Asked what specifically he likes about the 3-4, Harris replied: "I just like my (run) fits better in the 3-4. I feel like the holes are opening up well, and I'm able to get the fits well. I just like how everything's set up."

Obviously, playing middle linebacker in a 3-4 scheme isn't the same as playing middle linebacker in a 4-3.

"There's differences," Harris said. "Since it's a new defense, of course, I'm going to have different stuff to handle and call."

Based on what he has seen thus far, though, he believes the 3-4 will give Tennessee's defense an element of surprise that was lacking last fall in the 4-3.

"I like all the stunts we can run," Harris said. "We've got a bunch of stunts, and I feel like the offense isn't going to see it coming. They're not going to be able to pick up a lot of stuff we're doing."

And — make no mistake — new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri's troops are planning to do a lot of "stuff" in 2012.

"The key is all of the different stuff we have," Harris said. "Coach Sal says the offense is not going to be able to pick any of this up. It's got a lot of detail and disguises to it."

Preliminary reports suggest this defense will be more aggressive than last year's, as well. Harris believes Tennessee's linebackers will do plenty of blitzing, and that's fine with him.

"I like it a lot," he said. "We've got a bunch of different blitzes."

Like all college linebackers, Harris will have more pass coverage responsibilities than he was accustomed to at the high school level.

"A lot," he conceded. "I'm always dropping into pass coverage unless we're running the blitz. I've just got to know my zone in man coverage and go from there."

Because there is no game film of him playing last fall, Harris is a bit of an unknown quantity to Tennessee's new defensive coaches. As a result, he feels the need to prove himself at every opportunity.

"It's really important, obviously," he said. "I'm going to work hard and do what I can when I get a chance to get in."

Harris has packed on five pounds of muscle since arriving on The Hill as a 235-pounder last August. He felt stronger at 240 but just as fast as before.

"Coach Sal says that's a good weight for me," Harris said. "He doesn't want me going over that, so I'm going to stick around that."

At 240 pounds, Harris is the heaviest of Tennessee's middle linebackers but also the most inexperienced. Fifth-year senior Herman Lathers (6-feet, 225 pounds) has 17 career starts and rising sophomore Curt Maggitt (6-feet-3, 227) has eight. Lathers is getting the first-team repetitions in practice thus far, with Maggitt and Harris sharing the second- and third-team reps.

"Of course, Herman's a senior, so I expect him to be starting since he's one of our best linebackers and it's his last year," Harris said. "I look forward to seeing him play. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to start or I'll be able to rotate in. Whatever, I'll be happy with it."

Now it appears Harris' chance to "rotate in" will depend on the severity of his knee injury.

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