Harrell likes front 7

A lot of folks are worried that senior defensive tackle Justin Harrell is the only returning starter from last year's Tennessee front seven. Harrell isn't one of them. He's confident his new buddies in the front seven will prove quite capable in 2006.

Justin Harrell's confidence in the defensive line is understandable. Turk McBride is a senior who has four career starts to his credit. McBride won SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his play vs. Alabama in 2004 and recently was tabbed No. 13 on Collegefootballnews.com's preseason list of the NCAA's top defensive tackles for 2006. Matt McGlothlin, another senior, has made two starts in his 23 career games and is especially strong against the run.

Harrell also has confidence in defensive ends Antonio Reynolds, Robert Ayers, Xavier Mitchell and Walter Fisher. Reynolds has never started but he's played in 24 career games. Ayers saw extensive action in just one game last year but responded with 4 tackles vs. Memphis. Mitchell has played in 20 career games and listed two minus-yardage stops among his 11 total tackles last fall. Fisher came in from junior college and was having a fine spring until sidelined by injury.

Whereas there is some veteran talent at the line positions, that is not the case at linebacker, where all three 2005 starters must be replaced by relative novices. Marvin Mitchell has started two games, Jerod Mayo one. No other UT ‘backer knows how it feels to answer the opening bell.

So where does Harrell's confidence in the linebacking corps come from? From defensive coordinator John Chavis.

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

Although UT's young linebackers have minimal experience, Harrell believes their enthusiasm and determination will offset that shortcoming.

"Those guys know their roles are going to be extended this year," he said, "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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