UT's worst-kept secret

He hasn't recorded a sack. He hasn't registered a tackle or even an assist. Heck, he hasn't even taken the field in a regular-season game. Still, he's regarded as the rising star of Tennessee's linebacker corps.

In short, he's the worst-kept secret on the Vol football team.

That's what happens when you have eye-popping athleticism. That's what happens when media reports routinely rave about your potential. That's what happens when you're a prospect as engaging as Rico McCoy.

The 6-1, 215-pound redshirt freshman from Washington D.C., would've played as a rookie in 2005 if not for a preseason injury. Fully recovered, he literally was the "hit" of last spring's scrimmages, wowing spectators with his sideline-to-sideline range and his penchant for landing big licks.

As a result, McCoy has become a household name even before he has played a down. Naturally, he's enjoying his unexpected notoriety.

"It's good. It's good," he said. "But I just can't wait to see what I can do in an actual game, see how the fans respond to that."

Every list of "Players to Watch" for 2006 has McCoy's name on it somewhere. That makes him feel pretty good, doesn't it?

"Yes, sir, it does," he said. "Everybody wants to be the best at whatever they do. I believe I'm one of the best at what I do, so it's great that other people feel the same way. It just makes me work harder."

McCoy was listed No. 2 at weak-side linebacker entering preseason drills. He also can play strong-side. Heck, he probably could play the middle in a pinch.

"I prefer to play weak-side," he said. "But as long as I'm playing linebacker it really doesn't matter to me."

McCoy is one of five outside linebackers in contention for the two starting jobs this fall. The others are junior Ryan Karl, sophomores Jerod Mayo, Ellix Wilson and Adam Myers-White. All have shown flashes, so there may be a lot of shuffling at outside linebacker this fall.

"I'm aware of that," McCoy said. "Whatever works works. As long as I'm playing linebacker, that's what I love to do."

McCoy says he has improved his practice tempo in the past year. He also has improved his knowledge of UT's defensive scheme and his role in it.

"Just knowing is the key," he said. "Catching onto everything that's new and making sure I've got down pat everything I've learned in the past."

McCoy's greatest strength is his explosiveness as a tackler. It also may be his greatest weakness. He is so eager to blast ball-carriers that he sometimes fails to wrap them up securely.

"I want to be consistent, a guy who doesn't miss tackles," he said. "I love to make big hits, so hopefully the fans will get to see a bunch of big hits from me this season. I'm looking forward to showing the fans what I can do."

And, no doubt, the fans are looking forward to seeing what he can do. They've already HEARD.

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