UT's loaded with linebackers

There are so many good linebackers at the University of Tennessee these days that predicting the three starters is risky. Since UT is toying with the 3-4 alignment, there may be four starting linebackers.

Minus 2006 starting middle linebacker Marvin Mitchell, most observers assumed Tennessee would move junior weakside linebacker Jerod Mayo to fill the void in the middle, leave senior incumbent Ryan Karl at strongside and elevate flashy sophomore Rico McCoy to fill Mayo's old spot. Certainly, that's a good plan but it may not be Tennessee's plan.

"I'm not sure where I'm going to play right now," Mayo said earlier this spring. "Everybody's speculating. We have a lot of guys that can play each and every position. It's kind of like a jack-of-all-trades type of position. I'll play the middle if need be. It's no problem."

Although Mayo, Karl and McCoy remain the odds-on favorites to start, they are not without considerable competition. Sophomore Dorian Davis has had two spectacular spring scrimmages – recording 7 tackles and a 55-yard fumble return in the former and 6 tackles in the latter. Redshirt freshman LaMarcus Thompson led all tacklers with 8 stops in scrimmage No. 2. Junior Ellix Wilson recorded 5 stops in the first scrimmage and walk-on Nick Reveiz, son of former Vol kicking standout Fuad Reveiz, had 6 stops and a fumble forced in scrimmage No. 1.

Given the glut of talent at the position, Mayo says no job is safe.

"I still feel like I'm a third-stringer on this team," he said. "There's no position solidified on this team right now, so you have to go out every day and practice hard."

Mayo may feel like a third-stringer but he didn't play like one in 2006. Despite nagging injuries, he led the team in tackles for loss (12.5), sacks (5) and assists (30). He was third in total tackles (83) and fourth in big plays (14.5). Still, he says he can perform a lot better than he did last year.

"It was real tough," he said. "I feel like I had a pretty good season but it could be better this year."

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