Chavis likes talent

When Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis scans the practice field this spring he doesn't see six members of last fall's front seven. He doesn't see standout defensive back Jason Allen, either. But there's one thing he DOES see that makes him feel optimistic.

"Talent," Chavis said recently. "We've got some really good talent. This is going to be a young, young, young defense – probably even younger than we were two years ago. But what I like about them is their willingness to work and their talent. It's a very, very talented group. We've just got to get them game ready, and that's what spring practice is all about."

The Vols are particularly young at linebacker, where Chavis is seeking replacements for 2005 starters Kevin Simon, Omar Gaither and Jason Mitchell, plus backup Jon Poe. Rather than grumble about the players who are gone, however, the Vol aide prefers to focus on the players who are back.

"It's a very talented group," the coordinator said. "Obviously, there's no experience, and that's what you're concerned about. In the entire group we've got three starts. Marvin Mitchell has started two games and Jerod Mayo started one. Other than that, nobody's got any starting experience."

Mitchell, a senior, and Mayo, a sophomore, are almost certain to start in 2006. The other starting spot could go to junior Ryan Karl, sophomore Ellix Wilson, sophomore Adam Myers-White or redshirt freshman Rico McCoy. Mitchell's backups in the middle will be junior James Turner and redshirt freshman Andre Mathis.

Despite the glaring lack of experienced defenders, Chavis welcomes the task of preparing these promising young players to perform at the Southeastern Conference level.

"I feel really good about the talent but we've got to go teach them how to play," he said. "We've got to refine that talent and turn it into productivity."

Chavis would feel even better if Mayo and McCoy were able to go full-speed in practice this spring. Mayo, who recorded 13 tackles in 2005, is mostly watching the action. McCoy, who redshirted last fall due to injury, is practicing on a limited basis.

"Rico's got a lot of talent," Chavis said. "He can run. The short time I had him in the fall I was excited about him. Had he stayed healthy, I felt he would've played as a true freshman. He hasn't done anything yet but he's shown some really outstanding signs."

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