Mayo gets first start

Redshirt freshmen don't usually find their way onto Tennessee's first-team defensive unit. So, when one of them does, it's noteworthy.

Jerod Mayo, a 6-2, 222-pound second-year freshman from Hampton, Va., will start at weakside linebacker Saturday night at Florida. He has moved ahead of senior Jason Mitchell, who had started 14 games in a row -- all 13 in 2004, plus the 2005 opener. Mitchell, slowed by a knee injury, has been downgraded from questionable to doubtful for Saturday night's game.

Mitchell registered just two tackles in the opener against Alabama-Birmingham, while Mayo came off the bench to record four tackles and two assists.

Defensive coordinator John Chavis isn't given to lavish praise but he has great things to say about Mayo.

"If you're a backup here, you're only one play away from being a starter, and we felt really good about where he was as a backup," Chavis said. "Now he's got an opportunity to start.

"I feel real good about him. He's made great progress. He had a really good spring and played well in the first ballgame. Now it's time to go play a big ballgame with him."

Like Mitchell, Mayo has good size and great speed. Mayo also has a knack for being in the middle of the action.

"He's got a good nose for the football," Chavis said. "He's a full-speed player. He tackles well. He's a really, really good athlete, and that's what you're looking for."

Mayo's athleticism could be especially crucial this weekend against Florida. The Gators' spread option offense puts tremendous pressure on opposing linebackers – both in run support and pass coverage.


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