Strong on strong side?

Odd as it sounds, the strong side clearly is the weaker side of Tennessee's linebacker corps this season.

With preseason All-SEC pick Rico McCoy solidly entrenched as the No. 1 weakside 'backer, the Vols are anxiously waiting to see what level of quality can be attained on the other side. Certainly, steady Ryan Karl will be missed after providing solid play at the position in 2006 and 2007. Besides calling the defensive signals – a contribution much more vital than most fans may realize – Karl distinguished himself in pass coverage.

Now that Karl is out of eligibility, his outpost will be manned this fall by two guys who are virtual clones.

Both Nevin McKenzie and Adam Myers-White are 6-foot-2, 215-pounders. Both came to Tennessee as safety prospects. Both struggled with one-on-one coverage. Both bulked up a bit and switched to linebacker. Both have been career backups until now. That is about to change for one of them.

"You've got two seniors competing for the same position, which is kind of unusual," head coach Phillip Fulmer said recently. "It'll be a heck of a battle. I don't think either one of them is going to blink."

McKenzie appeared to have a slight lead in the battle for first-team status until he suffered a sprained knee ligament last April that caused him to miss the last half of spring practice. Now that he's 100 percent, he's trying to separate himself from Myers-White in the ongoing struggle for supremacy at the Sam (strongside) linebacker spot.

"Obviously," Fulmer said, "the guy who starts will be the one that plays the best, stays healthy and puts himself in position to run the defense – which is important for our Sam linebacker to do. And, obviously, make plays."

Because McKenzie and Myers-White are so similar in size, experience and ability, the second-teamer could play nearly as much as the first-teamer. It's conceivable that both will be deployed at once on occasion.

"There will be times," Fulmer said, "when we get both of those guys on the field as we scheme around with our personnel."

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