Lethal linebackers

Except for three-year starter Rico McCoy, Tennessee's linebackers hadn't made much impact heading into the 2009 season. But Saturday's opener saw them make plenty of impact ... as in high-impact collisions.

"There's got to be a 12-play highlight film with big hits coming out of that game," head coach Lane Kiffin said following a 63-7 drubbing of Western Kentucky.

The first-year boss was especially pleased to see Vol linebackers unloading on Hilltopper ball-carriers. The UT staff calls it "capping off," which Kiffin explained this way: "As guys are going down, finishing 'em off with an aggressive, physical nature - the style that we play defense here. It was very good to see, and those guys (linebackers) led the way with it."

The linebackers led the way on the tackle chart, too.

Savion Frazier, McCoy's backup, came off the bench to post a team-high six stops, four of them solos. One of his stops was a tackle for loss. He also recovered a fumble.

Nick Reveiz, the 5-foot-10 former walk-on who might be UT's ultimate rags-to-riches story, recorded just one solo tackle but added five assists to share the team lead with six total stops. He had a half-share in a tackle for loss, too.

LaMarcus Thompson, a little-used career backup under the previous coaching regime, turned the opening game around with a second-quarter strip/fumble recovery at WKU's 17-yard line. Thompson finished his first career start with five tackles (all solos) and three tackles for loss, including a sack.

McCoy registered two solos and three assists, including a tackle for loss, before giving way to Frazier.

True freshman Nigel Mitchell-Thornton made his presence felt by recording two stops, including a tackle for loss.

Redshirt freshman Herman Lathers, Reveiz' backup at middle linebacker, chipped in a tackle.

True freshman Greg King saw some action as Thompson's backup on the strong side but did not make the stat sheet.

Given how suspect the Vol linebacker corps appeared to be heading into preseason camp, Kiffin was understandably pleased with the Game 1 performance. He was especially happy with the play of Thompson, who he said "played really well" and Reveiz, who he surmised "played exceptional."

Perhaps the most encouraging development on defense was the pass rush. After ranking 10th among the 12 SEC teams with a paltry 22 sacks last fall, the Vols dropped WKU quarterbacks five times for 41 yards in losses on Saturday.

"We knew going in that if we could manage first and second down, get 'em into third and long, we thought our pass rush was pretty special," Kiffin said. "I think that showed today."


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