Replacing Reveiz

Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin is a supremely confident guy. But even he admits that there is one thing he can't do.

When asked today how he plans to replace the intangibles provided by middle linebacker Nick Reveiz, now out for the season with a torn ACL, Kiffin somberly shook his head.

"You can't coach that," he said. "As much as (linebackers) Coach (Lance) Thompson meets with these guys, trying to get them ready to go, you can't create that. We lost a lot there."

Earlier this season Kiffin said weakside linebacker Rico McCoy was "probably our third-best defensive player behind Eric (Berry) and Chris (Walker)." The head man has modified his opinion since then, with the 5-10, 220-pound Reveiz zooming toward the top of the list.

"Definitely, every one of our coaches would put him in the top three," Kiffin said. "Some of them would have had him No. 1. That's no disrespect to Eric at all because he (Reveiz) does so much and he's so hard to replace. He calls everything (defensive signals, etc.) and gets everybody lined up."

Although he conceded that Berry does "an unbelievable job" running the secondary from his strong safety position, Kiffin noted that Reveiz "lines up everybody in front of him, too. He makes all of the blitz changes because all of our stuff changes by formations, strengths and motions. It's a big-time job that he was doing.

"On top of all that, he was playing extremely well - making big-time tackles. Even though he's a little guy, he's using his hands to knock the guard back and make the plays. It's impossible to replace all he did for us."

In addition to calling the defensive signals and making sure everyone is aligned correctly, Reveiz had major responsibilities in pass coverage and serves as the cornerstone of the interior run defense. So, finding a suitable replacement is Job One as the Vols prepare to face an explosive Auburn team this Saturday that ranks No. 3 nationally in both total offense (526.25 yards per game) and scoring (45.25 points per game).

Savion Frazier, a 6-2, 221-pound junior who was McCoy's chief backup at weakside linebacker in Games 1 through 4, could be the starting middle linebacker vs. Auburn. Or it could be 6-0, 229-pound true freshman Nigel Mitchell-Thornton, who filled the void during the second half of last Saturday's game with Ohio University.

It could even be 6-1, 213-pound redshirt freshman Herman Lathers, assuming he is sufficiently recovered from the concussion he suffered last weekend. Lathers was really pushing Reveiz for the first-team job before an assortment of injuries limited him during preseason camp.

"It's been very frustrating," Kiffin said. "Going all the way back to camp, Herman has missed so much time and so many reps. At our linebacker positions, there's so much coaching that goes into it.... Herman has unbelievable tools. He has first-round draft pick tools but you've got to put it all together, and if you're banged up and not out there, that's almost impossible to do."

Another possibility: The Vols may alternate a couple of the linebackers mentioned above, based on down and distance.

"It may be two guys," Kiffin said. "When we go to our nickel and dime (packages), we may go with a different guy. That way, one guy's only having to master certain stuff."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories