Can UT thrive minus Simon?

Crazy as it sounds, losing a star player sometimes makes a football team better. If the other players step up their games in an effort to pick up the slack, the overall performance level actually improves.

Now that star middle linebacker Kevin Simon is out for the season with a torn ACL, Tennessee's defensive coordinator thinks just such a fate might await the 2004 Vols.

''That's been my experience,'' John Chavis said. ''Now we've got to go make that happen. Two years ago, we lost our two best defensive players (linebacker Kevin Burnett and end Constantin Ritzmann) we went on to finish fourth in the nation in total defense.''

Chavis is quick to add that he isn't expecting the 2004 defense to match that feat. For one thing, this defense lacks the experience of the 2002 stop unit.

''I don't know that this group can come close to what that group did two years ago because we had some mature kids,'' Chavis said. ''I don't know that this group can do that but that's the result you're looking for.''

Jon Poe has assumed Simon's middle linebacker spot. Poe is a good run-stopper, and Tennessee's next two foes (Louisiana Tech and Auburn) are run-oriented teams. Still, Poe needs for the other Vol defenders to rally around him.

''The other 11 guys have to step up,'' Chavis said, ''and the guy that's filling that position (where the injured starter was lost) has to step up.''

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