Is there a linebacker in the house?

Heading into the opener with Wyoming, Tennessee boasted six of the finest linebackers in college football -- starters Kevin Burnett, Keyon Whiteside and Eddie Moore, plus first-rate backups Robert Peace, Kevin Simon and Jason Mitchell.

''Going into the season I thought this was the best group of linebackers we'd had, without question,'' defensive coordinator John Chavis said. ''I thought we'd be able to go two-deep and never miss a beat.''

Heading into the Peach Bowl game against Maryland, however, the Vols' six-man linebacking corps has been reduced to Whiteside and Mitchell.

Burnett suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 1. Simon was felled by a broken ankle in Game 4 and Peace by a fractured foot in Game 9. Now Moore is questionable for the bowl game due to a knee injury which required minor arthoscopic surgery.

''He's not going to practice this week,'' Chavis said. ''Hopefully, he'll get back to where he can get some work at the bowl site and be able to play but I think there's a question mark there. If you ask Eddie, he'd tell you there's not. But I think there's a question mark there. Knowing Eddie, if anybody can be back and ready to play, he'll be ready to play. I think it's 50-50.''

With Moore questionable at best, Tennessee's coordinator says he now has two healthy 'backers at his disposal.

''You could throw (true freshman) Omar Gaither in there,'' Chavis added, ''but he's not a guy you count on to play right now.''

The Vols have two more freshman linebackers, but one (Marvin Mitchell) is banged up and the other (Parys Harylson) has been moved to end to shore up a depth problem there.

If Moore isn't cleared to play, Whiteside will start at middle linebacker with Jason Mitchell on the weakside and converted safety Steven Marsh at strongside linebacker. Gaither and converted defensive end Ovince Saint Preux are the only healthy backups.

''You're going to have some injuries,'' Chavis said. ''You have to be lucky to stay ahead of the injuries, and this was a year we were very unlucky from that standpoint.''


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