LB on a mission

When Kevin Simon went down last season, Omar Gaither stepped up. And, according to Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, there was no drop off.

That's quite a statement on behalf of Gaither, considering Simon led Tennessee in tackles with 115 in 2003 and Gaither was better known as a special teams specialist, not having started a game in his first two seasons.

``I take that as a great compliment,'' said Gaither, a senior from Charlotte. ``Kevin Simon is a great player.''

So is Gaither. He was voted second-team All-SEC last season. He had 18 tackles in the SEC championship game against Auburn, the most by a Vol in a regulation game since 1991. He had 92 tackles in 11 starts, with 12.5 stops behind the line. He made two interceptions.

One UT assistant told me Gaither is the team's best linebacker, better than Simon.

Gaither was appreciative of being named All-SEC last year and preseason All-SEC this year.

``The SEC always has had a lot of great linebackers,'' he said. ``Any time you're mentioned in the same group as those guys, it's a great honor.''

Gaither said he didn't feel under the gun when thrust into the lineup when Simon was injured in the second game against Florida.

``I didn't feel any pressure,'' Gaither said. ``When you start to feel pressure is when you start to think too much. I just went out there and played.''

Gaither was asked if he was surprised at how well he played.

``I never really thought about what level I was playing at,'' he said. ``The season and games went by so fast, I never had time for it to register. It's still all new to me.''.

Gaither said he simply played on instincts.

``That's all I did,'' he said. ``When you start to think, you might think the wrong thing. You just go out and react.''

Gaither reacted quite well as Simon's sub last season.

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