Lathered up

You didn't need 20/20 vision to locate redshirt freshman linebacker Herman Lathers during Thursday's Tennessee football practice. All you needed was decent hearing.

Resounding hits were the order of the day, and Herman Lathers delivered several of the loudest. His first came in an 11-on-11 drill and shook Bryce Brown so thoroughly that the heralded freshman tailback fumbled. Lathers also made a ferocious hit in a 7-on-7 pass coverage drill near the end of the workout, arriving just as the ball did to send the pigskin and would-be recipient Todd Campbell sailing in opposite directions. Lathers registered several more noisy knocks in between.

"I love hitting," he said afterward, flashing a faint grin. "I LOVE hitting."

It shows. For a 6-1, 213-pounder, he packs quite a wallop.

"It's just knowing my assignments," he explained, "and being able to play fast."

Some defenders get so eager when a clean shot presents itself that they over-extend and deliver a mere glancing blow. Not Lathers. He shows a knack for getting behind his pads and really hammering people.

"I just close to the inside hip, like Coach Lance Thompson is always telling me," Lathers explained.

Coming off a solid spring, he entered preseason drills bracketed first-team at middle linebacker with junior Nick Reveiz. Lathers believes he is a vastly superior player to what he was last April, however.

"It seems like I gained more over the summer than I did last spring, as far as knowledge of the game and my assignments," he said. "My first day of fall camp was better than my whole spring in my opinion."

A native of Baton Rouge, Lathers worked at outside linebacker while redshirting last fall. When the new coaching staff arrived this year, however, he found himself moving inside. That made him very happy.

"I played middle in high school a lot," he said. "Basically, I just love the middle. You get more hits in the middle."

Playing middle linebacker in Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 scheme is a lot different than playing the position in high school, of course. Lathers understands this but believes he's catching on quickly.

"The middle is more familiar to me because I played middle in high school," he said. "It's a little easier to pick up but I still have to learn and take time with it."

One major difference between the Tampa 2 and other schemes is the amount of pass-coverage responsibility on the middle linebacker. If you can't drop quickly into coverage, you simply can't play the position. Lathers believes working at outside linebacker last fall taught him to run stride-for-stride with receivers.

"It does help," he said.

Being able to separate a would-be receiver from the football with a big-time shot helps, too. Based on his first few workouts of preseason camp, Herman Lathers has no problem whatsoever in that area.

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