"Ryan gets us lined up," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "He's got an energy about him and he's pretty fresh because he hasn't practiced a lot. His experience certainly is a plus, and he's got good ability."
Karl, a 6-0, 215-pound senior from Franklin, has the best one-on-one coverage skills among Vol linebackers. He also has sideline-to-sideline range on running plays and a zeal about him that fires up his teammates. Clearly, Tennessee's defense is more active and more efficient with him in the lineup.
"I'm always that guy out there yelling, trying to get you to pick it up," he said following Tuesday's scrimmage. "I feel like we ran to the ball real well today and we were in our alignments real well. I don't think it's just me but I think I bring a presence out there that kind of uplifts everyone, and I think that helps the defense out."
Karl injured his back when he fell awkwardly while lifting weights in June. On doctor's orders he sat out the first two preseason scrimmages before taking part in the third. How did his back hold up?
"It felt real good," he said. "I didn't want to go out there and hesitate at all … just go full speed, play my game. My back felt fine, held up great. I'm just thankful to be back."
Karl practiced with the team a full week before he was allowed to scrimmage. Still, getting through the game-type workout without incident was reassuring.
"I went out and did a lot of practices the week before," he said, "but it's nothing until you get in a real game situation, and today was a game situation. It was a good experience. I needed it."
Much as Tennessee needs Ryan Karl.