Numbers game

Tennessee had too few linebackers to get through the season in 2009 but that shouldn't be a problem in 2010. If there truly is safety in numbers, linebacker is the safest position on the Vol roster.

Counting Marteze Jackson, who belatedly joined the team Friday after being approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse, the Vols have 13 linebackers on scholarship and a former 'backer (Rod Wilks) currently working at safety.

Five of the 13 scholarship linebackers have starting experience. Senior LaMarcus Thompson and sophomore Herman Lathers have 11 starts each. Nick Reveiz has five starts (one in '08, four in '09) and fellow senior Savion Frazier four. Sophomore Greg King boasts two starts.

There may not be an All-SEC player among the Vol 'backers but there are enough good players to provide a positive outlook at the position.

"I think we're a solid group," Frazier said. "We had a lot of playing time last year because of injuries. I think we're coming back real strong. I think we're going to be real strong this year at linebacker."

The Vols should be real versatile at linebacker, for sure. Most of them were forced to fill in at multiple positions when a rash of injuries hit the 'backer corps last fall.

"I think that helps a lot," Frazier said. "We have a lot of linebackers with game experience, and that's always a plus. We're going to need that. And we've got a lot of linebackers that are a little older, so we've got a little leadership in our linebacker corps and that's going to help us, too."

Austin Johnson moved from fullback to middle linebacker last spring because so many backers were rehabbing injuries. Now that everyone's healthy, the Vols have a glut at the position. But that's OK.

"The benefits of that is being in the film room with each other, learning from each other and just having everybody push each other," Johnson said. "If everybody's healthy and pushing themselves, it makes it more competitive."

Reveiz missed nine games last fall due to an ACL tear. Frazier missed five games due to injury, King four and Thompson two. Things got so bad that linebackers coach Lance Thompson thought he might run out of backers in November. He has no such worries this fall, thanks to superior depth.

"Coach Thompson preaches on that all the time," Johnson said. "We had four linebackers last year get hurt. If you're in the three-deep, you're likely to get in there."

Given Tennessee's depth at linebacker, you'd think some of the freshman backers would redshirt this season to preserve all four years of eligibility. That may not be the case, though.

"John Propst is a really smart 'backer; he's going to be good," Johnson said. "And Raiques Crump is going to be good. Really, I haven't seen anybody that was weak or anything like that. Everybody's working really hard and competing."

As long as that continues, Tennessee's linebacker corps will have safety in numbers.


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