Lathered up

He'll be Tennessee's starting middle linebacker Saturday in Oxford. If not for a twist of fate, though, he easily could be starting for Ole Miss instead of the Vols.

Herman Lathers was heavily recruited by both programs as a senior at Scotlandville High in Baton Rouge. At one point he was pretty close to signing with head coach Ed Orgeron's Rebels.

"I was," he conceded this week, "but once Coach O left that changed my decision. I wouldn't say I would have (signed if Orgeron had stayed) but there's a great chance I would have."

When Ole Miss gave up on Orgeron following the 2007 season, however, Lathers gave up on Ole Miss. That allowed Tennessee to sign him. Now Orgeron is assistant head coach for the Vols, so the two wound up in the same program, after all.

After redshirting in 2008, Lathers missed the first part of 2009 due to a concussion. With both Nick Reveiz and Savion Frazier sidelined by ACL tears, he was thrust into the starting lineup at middle linebacker last weekend vs. Memphis. The 6-1, 213-pounder was understandably thrilled.

"It was a lot of excitement for me, just basically getting prepared for it and taking on the task," he recalled.

Although Lathers was credited with a team-high 6 tackles last Saturday, he believes his performance should've been a lot better.

"I'm not pleased with it," he said. "I can always be better. I'm just going to get in the film room and get better."

The middle linebacker has considerable responsibility in Tennessee's system - making the play calls and making sure everyone is lined up correctly. Lathers believes he handled that part of the job reasonably well.

"I knew all of the calls," he said. "It was just a matter of me getting more intense in the starting position, getting everybody lined up and everything."

Although he learned a lot during his first collegiate start, Lathers figures his second start will be just as challenging.

"I don't think it will be easier," he said, "because it's an SEC opponent. It's going to be a little tougher."

Adding to the degree of difficulty is the fact Ole Miss is a multiple offense that does a lot of things to tax a defense mentally, as well as physically.

"It will be just as hard as it was preparing for Auburn," Lathers noted.

Head coach Lane Kiffin believes Lathers has a bright future, recently noting that he has "first-round draft pick tools." Foremost among those tools is remarkable quickness. He gave fans a glimpse of it last weekend against Memphis.

"Herman's speed really stood out," Kiffin said. "He is so fast to the ball and he lined up really well for the most part, so we're very pleased with his first start and how he performed. Now, this game will be a challenge because most likely he'll play more snaps, so he's got to continue to improve and take it to another level."

In addition to the concussion, Lathers has been battling a blood disorder this season that sometimes affects his availability for games.

"It's been a concern for a long time," Kiffin said. "He's getting tested all the time. He's had to take some shots that made him sick for a while. We've had a number of Fridays where we had to test him and we didn't know where his count would be and whether he could play.

"It made it very difficult to prepare when he was a backup. Now (that he's a starter) it's extremely difficult."


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