''Our numbers at linebacker,'' Chavis said. ''We've got quality, and the numbers are OK. But if you get an injury or two, you're out of business. We're going to look at it because we feel there are some areas that it can be beneficial for us. But it's not something we would sell out to because of our numbers at linebacker. We're going into the spring with basically eight scholarship linebackers. We've got one or two more coming in but it's certainly not enough to commit yourself to playing a 3-4 scheme."
Those eight scholarship linebackes are an impressive bunch -- veterans Kevin Burnett, Kevin Simon, Robert Peace and Jason Mitchell, plus prized prospects Omar Gaither, Marvin Mitchell, Ovince St. Preux and juco transfer Jon Poe.
The linebacker corps swells to 10 if you count Corey Anderson and ballyhooed freshman Daniel Brooks.
Anderson, a 6-3, 240-pounder, signed with UT two years ago but failed to qualify academically for enrollment. After sitting out a year, he rejoined the program as a walk-on and had some impressive moments in practice last fall.
Brooks, meanwhile, was a Parade All-American last fall who will join the mix when freshmen report in August. Chavis expects Brooks to play right away.
''Based on the evaluation process, you certainly think so,'' the coordinator said. ''From a talent standpoint, he certainly has the tools to come in and play as a freshman. He's a very mature young man. We'll see when he gets here but I don't think he'll be redshirted. He's going to have to learn the scheme and get ready to play.''
Chavis said both Brooks and Anderson are tentatively scheduled to play outside linebacker, with Anderson also getting some work at defensive end.
If Brooks and Anderson come through, the 3-4 could become a more attractive option for Chavis because of UT's lack of proven players in the defensive front. All four of last year's starters -- Demetrin Veal, Aubrayo Franklin, Omari Hand and Rashad Moore -- are out of eligibility. So is key backup Ed Kendrick.
Clearly, the defensive line is the area of most concern on defense.
''Probably so,'' Chavis conceded. ''The last two years we've taken some hits there, in terms of graduation. But we've got some good young talent there.''
That's true. But it's UNPROVEN talent.
''You get a bit concerned about the level of experience but that's what spring practice is all about,'' Chavis said. ''We've got to get some of those guys ready to play. It's going to be a big challenge for us, but (ends coach) Steve Caldwell and (tackles coach) Dan Brooks have done a great job, and they'll continue to do that. If the players respond the way they're supposed to, then certainly we'll have a chance to put four out there that we'll end up feeling pretty good about.''
Tennessee has a little experience at end, thanks to the return of Karlton Neal and Constantin Ritzmann. Neal played significantly as a sophomore last season, while Ritzmann started three games in 2001 but missed last year with a torn ACL.
''Constantin's a proven player,'' Chavis said. ''He's proved he can line up in the SEC and win. We expect him to be a starter but he's going to have to come back out there and earn it, just like anybody else.''
Rising sophomore Parys Haralson is a potential star who should challenge Neal and Ritzmann for a starting job. Then there's J.T. Mapu, who also saw significant action as a freshman end last fall. His decision to postpone his Mormon mission until 2004 means he'll be available for service in the fall.
''It gives us some depth, and we need that,'' Chavis said. ''We're going to be awful young, so the more bodies you have on hand, the more you can get done.''
''David will start out at defensive end,'' Chavis said. ''He showed us some things in the fall that would be good indicators that he'll be able to help us.''
Given the glut of prospects at end, Tennessee's major concern in the line is tackle. Chavis feels pretty good about his top three candidates -- redshirt freshman Justin Harrell, rising senior Mondre Dickerson and rising sophomore Greg Jones.
''That gives you three pretty good bodies to work with,'' Chavis said. ''There are some other guys but those three certainly are impressive on the hoof. They look like you want them to look.''
Foremost among the ''other guys'' is LaRon Harris, a 6-3, 300-pound Memphis native who redshirted as a freshman last season.
''LaRon has a lot of quickness and strength,'' Chavis said. ''And he had a great offseason.''
The tackle corps also features two veterans who have scarcely played to date -- rising senior Terriea Smalls and rising junior Andre Taylor. Like Ligon and Harris, they hope to use spring practice as a springboard to playing time in the fall.
''We look for those guys to provide depth but they'll be given an opportunity to compete,'' Chavis said. ''Who can say that after 15 days of practice one of them can't be a starter for us? You don't know. That's why you have spring practice.''