Linebacking Depth Will Make Or Break Tennessee Volunteers Defense
The Tennessee Volunteers defense was a major factor in the team suffering one of their worst seasons in school history. Despite a high powered offensive attack, the Vols won just one game during SEC play and managed to look like a Pop Warner squad when matching up against opposing offenses.
One of the lone bright spots for the Vols defensively was linebacker A.J. Johnson. Johnson led Tennessee with 138 total tackles and was the only Vol to record over 100 tackles for the season.
Although the first two years of his career have been a part of lackluster teams, Johnson has shined since his arrival in Knoxville two years ago. As a freshman, he was a consensus freshman All-American and a member of the All-SEC freshman team.
Last season, Johnson was nominated to the Coaches All-SEC second team. Entering the season with high expectations, he was placed on the Butkus Award watch list and the Preseason All-SEC second team by league media.
There is little doubt that Johnson will shine during his junior season. However, the biggest question about the Tennessee linebacking corps is “how much depth do the Vols have at that position?”
Curt Maggitt is the other linebacker Vols fans remain optimistic about. During the 2012 season, Maggitt played through injuries before he ultimately went down with a torn ACL just before the end of the season.
While his status is in question, Maggitt would definitely bring a boost to the linebacking corps and give some help to the standout Johnson. Both players were part of the same recruiting class and had Vols fans optimistic that they would dominate offenses alongside one another for years.
However, Maggitt’s time in Knoxville has been plagued with injuries, despite showing flashes of brilliance when healthy. If the two can line up together, the linebacking corps may be a force to reckoned with.
Even with both linebackers starting, the problem still leads to depth. Maggitt’s injury problem aside, the Vols still don’t truly have a frontrunner for the third linebacking position. Raiques Crump and Dontavis Sapp are both seniors who have seen limited action.
Should Maggitt not be ready to return on time, both will likely start alongside Johnson. John Propst is also a returning senior but has seen much less action. Channing Fugate has seen playing time but from the fullback position.
The Volunteers linebacking corps definitely has some unanswered questions related to the depth chart. However, they do possess some talent if they can keep their starting linebackers healthy.