Big-time 'backers

Tennessee's defensive front is a problem area after losing its top three tackles from 2006. Tennessee's secondary is a problem area after losing its top three cornerbacks from 2006. So, thank God for the linebackers.

Jerod Mayo and Ryan Karl are returning starters. Rico McCoy played a lot last year, starting against Kentucky and Penn State while Mayo was injured. This trio is as good as any in the Southeastern Conference.

"You feel good about that group," defensive coordinator John Chavis said recently. "You've got some guys who have played a lot and understand what we're doing. That's always a big benefit, but there's some young guys that are going to be pushing them. I think we've got some good competition."

Those "young guys" are pretty good in their own right. Dorian Davis was all over the field in Tennessee's first scrimmage of the spring, recording 7 tackles and returning a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown. McCoy added 6 stops, as did walk-on Nick Reveiz, son of former Vol place-kicker Fuad Reveiz. Ellix Wilson chipped in 5 stops.

Converted safety Adam Myers-White and redshirt freshman LaMarcus Thompson showed flashes in scrimmages last spring and preseason. Both are exceptionally quick and cover the pass well.

All of UT's top 'backers from 2006 return except for Marvin Mitchell, who started at middle linebacker. Penciled in to succeed him in the middle is Mayo, a tremendous talent who was slowed by injuries in 2005 and '06. There's no telling how good Mayo can be if he could stay healthy for an entire season.

"I'm interested to see," Chavis said. "Hopefully, he's going to be better because he knows more about the game. When he's had opportunities he's played really well for us. He played inside and outside, and answered the call to do what we asked him to do.

"He's got a great deal of potential but I think he'd be the first to tell you that he can take his game to a different level."

The 2007 spring depth chart shows Mayo listed No. 1 in the middle, backed by Wilson and Reveiz. Karl is first-team on the strong side, followed by Myers-White and Thompson. McCoy is the projected starter on the weak side, with Davis in reserve.


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