No tears for Chavis

Tackle Tony McDaniel's recent decision to bypass his senior season means Tennessee's 2006 defense will be without four of its top five defensive linemen, all three starting linebackers and star defensive back Jason Allen from the '05 stop unit.

The reaction of the returnees? Big deal.

Despite the heavy personnel losses, they're convinced the Vol defense will be every bit as good as it was in 2005.

"I believe we can be just as good as last year," end Turk McBride says. "The people who are left behind have no choice but to step up in their new roles. We did extremely well last year on defense, but this year I believe we'll do just as well, maybe better.

There are reasons for this confidence, of course.

One is John "Chief" Chavis, who has shown a knack for molding outstanding defenses, no matter how many or how few starters he has returning from the previous season.

Another is the fact Tennessee's defensive front – despite losing Jesse Mahelona, Parys Haralson and Jason Hall – returns an All-America candidate (Justin Harrell), an All-SEC candidate (McBride), along with such capable players as Matt McGlothlin, Demonte Bolden, Robert Ayers, Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds.

In addition, the departure of Allen is softened a bit by the fact Tennessee actually lost him (to a hip injury) midway through the 2005 season, already adjusted and moved on. The four secondary guys who started UT's last six games all will be back in 2006.

That leaves the linebacking corps, which must be revamped after losing two-year starters Jason Mitchell and Omar Gaither, along with three-year starter Kevin Simon. Still, the Vols say that isn't a big concern.

"Coach Chavis told me he was real excited about the linebacking corps," Harrell says. "We lost a great group of three but we know the young guys are going to step up – the Ryan Karls and Marvin Mitchells and Jarod Mayos.

"Those guys know their roles are going to be extended this year, so I'm sure they're looking forward to the challenge of getting up there and performing like the guys last year did."

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