One of the biggest concerns about the Tennessee defense heading into the 2011 season is the linebacker position. Those concerns have become even greater as the Vols enter the first full week of their summer off-season program on Monday.
Tennessee will be without both Herman Lathers and Greg King. Lathers is set to have surgery on a fractured ankle and is expected to be out till sometime in September. Lathers missed spring practice due to a nagging shoulder injury.
King, who has been slowed by knee problems for nearly two years, is once again out after having arthroscopic surgery to remove torn meniscus in his right knee. King is expected to be back in time for fall camp, but obviously his durability is a huge question mark heading into the 2011 season.
The result is suddenly true freshmen linebackers A.J. Johnson and Christian Harris just became that much more of a factor for this season and linebacker/defensive end Curt Maggitt just became linebacker Curt Maggitt as the Florida native will certainly start out his Vol career as a linebacker. All three in just a week on campus has shown that athletically they are as good if not better than what's returning to the team.
Now the question is can they learn the scheme in a hurry.
There's no doubt that this coaching staff is not afraid to throw a freshman into the line up as they did a year ago with four offensive linemen and a safety that hadn't played football in four years.
What Brent Brewer did a year ago was remarkable and the credit for his play goes to Brewer himself and to then graduate assistant Peter Sirmon.
Now Sirmon is coaching linebackers and could very well find himself in the same spot where the most talented player who gives the defense the best chance to be successful is a freshman. At the very least, with the two injuries from this week, Sirmon must have his freshmen ready in case of another injury.
It's a familiar feeling for the former NFL linebacker coaching his first year as a paid assistant at the major college level.
But that doesn't make it any less unsettling for the Vols.