Mayo will be missed

Before the Outback Bowl, Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo said he planned to return for his senior season.

But what if you're projected as a first-round pick in the NFL draft?

``What would you do?'' Mayo asked the reporter.

``I'd go,'' the reporter said.

Mayo indicated he would return if he weren't projected as a first-round selection by the NFL advisory committee.

Mayo got a late second- to third-round grade.

It didn't matter. Mayo, who has his degree, said it was time to move on.

``My main goal was to get my degree,'' Mayo said. ``I'm ready to start a new chapter.''

Mayo's chapter at Tennessee was impressive. He led Tennessee with 140 tackles, making first-team All-SEC. He had 60 tackles in his last four games, an average of 15 pre game.

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said Mayo was UT's best combination of an inside-outside linebacker since Al Wilson in 1998.

Defensive coordinator John Chavis agreed.

``Al was a great player, no doubt about that,'' Wilson said. ``The thing that set Al apart was his uncanny nature about being able to time blitzes and hit things right. You can't coach those things. It's got to be by feel. Al would recognize things and respond. Al is the best I've had from that standpoint. Nobody else had the acceleration he had.

``Mayo would be the closest.''

Mayo hopes that versatility will help his stock. He also hopes that his pro workouts will increase his value, because he was disappointed at being projected as a probable third-round pick, not a first-round pick.

``After they explained the grades to me and how the grades are done, it pretty much calmed me down a little bit,'' Mayo said. `If I test well and really go out and study my film, I'll move up.''

Mayo hopes to move up into the first round.

``His versatility, no doubt, will help him,'' Chavis said. ``He can play in space, in traffic and rush the passer. He possesses a tremendous amount of ability.''

A native of Hampton, Va., Mayo redshirted in 2004. He played six games in 2005 before being sidelined by a season-ending knee injury. As a sophomore, he played mostly outside linebacker, racking up 83 tackles.

He was moved to inside linebacker this past season to replace Marvin Mitchell, who led the team in tackles in 2006.

``Jerod has been a great leader for our football team and a great player,'' Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. ``He's been a wonderful person to have in the program. I thank him for a job well done.''

Chavis echoed those thoughts.

``Man, he's come a long ways, but this is what the college experience as an athlete is all about,'' Chavis said. ``I think the proof's in the pudding. I wish him well and he will do well. There's no doubt about that.''

Chavis said Mayo made a number of remarkable plays, but one that sticks out in his mind was a vicious hit delivered to a Mississippi State tight end last season.

``It was phenomenal,'' Chavis said. ``It was a lick that got everybody fired up, I guarantee you that.

``He had a way of getting through traffic and making plays. You don't find guys that can do that on a consistent basis – and he did. He made a ton of plays.

``Mayo didn't do a lot of talking. He was a quiet leader. You always knew by the way he prepared he would be ready to play and for any challenges that happened. When he needed to say something, he said something.''

Fulmer said it will be difficult to replace Mayo.

``He was a leader, a passionate player, great off the edge, really, really good in the middle,'' Fulmer said.

Junior Ellix Wilson figures to take over for Mayo at middle linebacker with Nick Reveiz the backup. With senior Ryan Karl gone, Adam Myers-White, Dorian Davis, Nevin McKenzie and Savion Frazier will battle it out. Returner Rico McCoy, academically ineligible for the Outback Bowl, is the other outside linebacker.

Tennessee did get some good news when offensive lineman Anthony Parker (projected as a fourth-round pick), offensive lineman Ramon Foster (sixth round) and punter Britton Colquitt (seventh round) announced they would return.

Running back Arian Foster, who got a surprisingly high second-round grade, remains undecided.

The results of UT football players going pro early have been mixed.

In the past decade, John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth, Jamal Lewis, Donte Stallworth and Robert Meachem were first-round draft picks, and Cosey Coleman and Deon Grant went in the second round.

However, Jason Witten and Kelley Washington went in the third round, and Tony McDaniel and Rob Smith were undrafted.

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