Circle the wagons

Tennessee lost star quarterback Tony Robinson to a Game 5 knee injury in 1985 but went 6-0-1 thereafter to win the SEC title and rank No. 4 nationally. The Vols lost star tailback Jamal Lewis to a Game 4 knee injury in 1998 but went 9-0 thereafter and won the national title.

Conversely, Tennessee lost quarterback Jerry Colquitt to a Game 1 knee injury in 1994, dropped thee of the first four games and finished 8-4. The Vols lost star receiver Kelley Washington to a Game 6 neck injury in 2002 and limped home 8-5.

So, what have we learned about the impact of season-ending injuries to key players?

"Two things can happen," Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo says. "Your team can break apart or your team can come closer together."

The 2006 Vols recently lost starting cornerback Inquoris Johnson to a season-ending shoulder injury. So, with Saturday night's SEC opener rapidly approaching, you wonder how Tennessee's players will react to adversity.

"We've come closer together," Mayo says. "We're circling the wagons and getting ready to play Florida."

Also hurt in the Air Force game was star defensive tackle Justin Harrell, who will see limited duty vs. Florida before undergoing season-ending bicep surgery. When he's on the sidelines life will be a bit tougher for Mayo and the other linebackers.

"Not having Justin Harrell to keep the offensive linemen off of us is going to hurt," Mayo notes. "But we have other guys like Turk McBride, who is a real versatile player. Then there's Matt McGlothlin, who can really play. And don't forget about J.T. Mapu, who is really getting into game shape right now.

"I feel like it's not going to be too much of a drop-off with those guys in there."

Mayo also has plenty of confidence in defensive coordinator John Chavis.

"Coach Chavis always finds a way to get the most out of his players, so I have no doubt that he'll get the defense ready for this game," Mayo says. "People are going to have to play more snaps and some of the young guys – Dan Williams, Demonte Bolden, Ricardo Kemp – are just going to have to step up and make plays."

The Florida game is special for Mayo, who made his only start of 2005 against the Gators. He was injured in that game, however, and struggled the rest of the season. He's healthy this time, however, and looking to make a better showing.

"Last year, making my first start in The Swamp, was pretty tough," he recalls. "This year I feel a whole lot more comfortable, a lot more relaxed."


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