Tricky situation

You'd probably have to visit a Las Vegas nightclub to witness a vanishing act as dramatic as the one achieved in 2007 by one Tennessee Vol.

Huntington's Chris Donald was one of the most heralded members of Tennessee's '07 signing class, a Parade and USA Today All-American. Still, he virtually disappeared as a UT freshman last fall. He couldn't earn playing time at linebacker. He couldn't earn playing time at defensive end. He couldn't earn playing time on special teams.

Donald's disappearance was solved, however, when he resurfaced ... as the No. 3 middle linebacker on the Vol depth chart. He's currently listed behind senior starter Ellix Wilson and sophomore walk-on Nick Reveiz.

Basically, Donald vanished for the same reason a lot of heralded recruits do so: He struggled with the adjustment from high school to college.

"Chris has not progressed as we would've liked for him to," head coach Phillip Fulmer said recently. "The redshirt year was exactly what he needed."

After splitting time between linebacker and end last fall, the 6-1, 225-pound Donald worked exclusively at middle linebacker in the spring. His progress wasn't dramatic but it was noticeable.

"In spring practice you saw flashes of him being able to be a player in the Southeastern Conference," Fulmer said. "This fall I'm hoping he'll pick up where he left off in spring practice and get himself into the mix."

The odds may be against him, however. With the opener barely three weeks away, Donald needs to make a big statement in a big hurry if he's going to get himself "into the mix" by Sept. 1.

"In the spring you've got time and you've got opportunities to really get a look at young guys," Fulmer explained. "We are now interested mostly in who's going to be our top 48, who's going to be on our 70-man travel squad. We'll spend time with the young ones but you make the team in spring practice and the offseason."

Odds are, Donald's first tackle this season will be on an opposing return specialist, not an opposing tailback.

"Hopefully," Fulmer said, "he'll be able to help us on special teams, get a taste of Southeastern Conference football and continue to make progress at linebacker or possibly defensive end."


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