NFL's Loss Boosts Tennessee's Game

One week to the day after Tennessee's football season came to a disappointing end, the 2004 campaign gets a big boost with word that linebacker Kevin Burnett and offensive tackle Anthony Munoz are coming back.

It's hard to ignore the irony: Burnett and Munoz — the first junior captains at Tennessee in 59 years — are bypassing the NFL to be Volunteer seniors, thereby, likely becoming the first two-time Tennessee captains since 1925. While such a historical achievement at tradition-rich Tennessee is more than noteworthy, it's not nearly as significant as what Burnett and Munoz will be for the success of UT in 2004. At a time when the Vols are struggling for traction on that slippery upgrade leading to the elite level of college football, continuity and leadership are key. Burnett and Munoz should each have more impact than any prospect the Vols will add, while their experience is vital for a team seeking consistency.

Not in 79 years when J.G. Lowe was captain in 1924 and 1925 has a player twice served as Vols team captain. Roscoe Word (1904, 1905, 1907) was UT's only three-time captain. Assuming they are again appointed captains in 2004, Burnett and Munoz will become the only the third and fourth players in UT football history to serve as team captain more than once.

Munoz, who will be a fifth-year senior and a four-year starter next fall, provides protection on the weak side where defenses often place their best pass rusher. Burnett, who will be a fifth-year senior and four-year letterman, gives Tennessee's D that pressure off the edge and provides the Vols a player who can create chaos with his blitzes.

Munoz 6-6, 305, will likely team with junior college transfer Albert Toeaina, 6-7, 335, to give Tennessee one of the most imposing tackle tandems in college football. That will go a long way to helping the Vols reestablish the power ground game that has missing from their offensive attack the last two seasons. A consistent ground game is of even greater urgency this year as Tennessee breaks in a new signal caller.

On defense, Burnett will again join forces with fellow west coast colleague Kevin Simon to arm Tennessee with a quick, dangerous one-two punch at outside linebacker. Upgrading the front seven's capacity to shut down the run and pressure the passer are the keys to the Vols fielding a formidable defense in 2004. And fielding a formidable defense is essential to taking pressure off a developing offense.

Having two NFL-caliber seniors decide to return to school is unique at Tennessee, but getting two NFL-caliber fifth-year seniors is virtually unheard of. When you throw in the fact Munoz and Burnett are both in graduate school students and established leaders and it's easy to proclaim the Vols as truly blessed.

That's the kind of New Year's good news Big Orange fans need.

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