Even faster 'backers?

If you think Tennessee's trio of starting linebackers is fast now … well, you ain't seen nothing yet. There's a distinct possibility the Vols could utilize their three quickest ‘backers simultaneously this season.

Tennessee opened Game 1 vs. Cal with Marvin Mitchell in the middle, flanked by Ryan Karl on the strong side and Jerod Mayo on the weak side. Karl led the team with nine tackles. Mayo added seven stops. Redshirt freshman Rico McCoy, probably UT's fastest linebacker, came off the bench to contribute two tackles.

Since Mayo has the heft (6-2, 230) and toughness to play middle linebacker, there is a chance he could supplant Mitchell, with the mercurial McCoy assuming the weak side spot. That would put Tennessee's three fastest linebackers – McCoy, Mayo and Karl – on the field at once.

Perhaps that's the plan defensive coordinator John Chavis was alluding to earlier this week when he said the following:

"We felt all along that Jerod was going to be a really good football player. It was just a matter of getting him healthy. We're fortunate to have someone like Rico McCoy playing the same position. When both of them are full speed and healthy that may force us to DO SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT."

Mayo can play inside or outside. He was the breakout player of Tennessee's 2005 spring practice. He earned a starting job for Game 2 against Florida last fall but suffered a shoulder injury that evening that limited his effectiveness thereafter.

"He started the Florida game, got hurt and tried to play hurt four or five games after that," Chavis recalled. "The pain finally got to the point where he couldn't play and he had the surgery."

Shoulder surgery forced Mayo to miss spring practice. Then he sprained an ankle during preseason drills and was listed "questionable" for the opener vs. Cal. Even playing on a tender ankle, Mayo went out and recorded 7 tackles (3 of them sacks), earning recognition as the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week.

One can only imagine what he might accomplish playing on TWO healthy ankles tonight against Air Force. Mayo probably won't play much this evening, though, so he can be 100 percent for Game 3 vs. Florida.

"He's had an ankle injury he's dealing with but he's a tough, tough individual," Chavis said. "He's really smart and obviously a really good football player."

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