Another day, another SEC player preview on our Rant Sports, SEC, 50 Players in 50 Days series. Today we have reached the 41 day mark and we’ll take a look at Tennessee Volunteer linebacker A.J. Johnson.
A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee:
The Tennessee Volunteers will start year two of the Derek Dooley era when they head to Atlanta to take on the N.C. State Wolfpack on Friday, August 31st. The Vols are looking for a quick start, and this non-conference, neutral field test will let the nation see if Tennessee will be a player in the SEC East.
In his first two campaigns on “Rocky Top,” Derek Dooley has only managed 11 wins, that’s not going to get it done in Knoxville, not with that rabid fanbase and big money boosters who didn’t want him hired in the first place. Not to mention, after the 2011 season, six of Dooley’s assistants ran out of the state as fast as they could.
New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri comes over from Alabama and brings his 3-4 scheme with him, hoping to have as much success as his former boss, Nick Saban. Sunseri takes over a defense that only ranked 28th in the nation in yards allowed. Now that might seem all good, but not in the SEC, where Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina where light years ahead of the Vols.
Leading this 2012 version of the Vols defense will be middle linebacker A.J. Johnson. Johnson collected 80 tackles in 2011 and was named to the Freshman All American team. He collected double digit tackles versus Alabama, LSU, and South Carolina. At 6’3” and 245 pounds, Johnson is like a rocket and should only get better learning under Sunseri. The 80 tackles he had last year, were the 2nd most for a freshman at Tennessee, only behind former Vols safety, Eric Berry.
Johnson will be joined at linebacker by Curt Maggitt, who was an All SEC Freshman selection in 2011. Senior Herman Lathers, who missed 2011 with an injury, returns to give the Vols three of the top linebackers in the conference. These three should be in position to make a ton of plays, both with the new scheme on defense, and the fact that the defensive line just isn’t as deep in 2012.