New look at linebacker

Tennessee's superior depth at linebacker is being put to the test. The Vols lost top reserve Marvin Mitchell to a preseason knee injury, then lost starting middle 'backer Kevin Simon to a torn ACL in Game 2.

So far, UT's depth is holding up. Omar Gaither made his first start in Game 3 vs. Louisiana Tech and responded with a team-high 11 tackles and a diving interception. He'll be a key man as the Vols attempt to slow down Auburn's powerful running game Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

''Omar made a lot of plays and was very active,'' defensive coordinator John Chavis said. ''But there were some assignments where he was well off. He's one of the smarter guys out there, and he'll be able to adjust. After he's had a chance to see the film, I think he'll be 75 to 80 percent better.''

Jason Mitchell, who moved from weakside linebacker to the middle in Simon's absence, also is playing a bigger role now that Tennessee's depth has deteriorated.

''I was really excited about what we got out of Jason Mitchell,'' Chavis said. ''Kevin (Burnett) didn't have his best game. He was nicked up a little bit but played well early.

''I was pleased with what we got done with those three guys.''

If the coordinator can say the same after Saturday night's game with Auburn, Tennessee should be 4-0.

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