Injuries made last season a tough one to be a Tennessee linebacker.
But with nearly the entire cast returning intact, that negative could turn into a positive.
“What we went through last year, it helps us with our depth this year,” senior LaMarcus Thompson said after Tuesday morning’s practice.
“A lot of young guys got to get in there and got to play. With everybody back and everybody healthy, that’s going to help our linebacker depth, hopefully have that be a strength.”
The challenging season began when Nick Reveiz, the defense’s quarterback, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Ohio. Four games later, Savion Frazier — his replacement — also tore his ACL.
Herman Lathers, then a redshirt freshman, was thrown into the fire, starting the last five games despite a blood disorder that required offseason spleen-removal surgery.
Those were just UT’s middle linebackers.
Thompson missed two games himself at outside linebacker, one coming after he was immobilized and carted off the field on a stretcher with a scary neck injury late in the fourth quarter of UT’s loss to Ole Miss
“We (weren’t) where we wanted to be last year as a unit,” said Lathers, a All-SEC Freshman selection last year.
“It’s always tough to see one of your teammates go down cause they’re like a brother to you,” Thompson said. “You feel it inside, and you just have to be there for them to get them back right and get them back healthy.”
But the unit’s clean bill of health isn’t all that has UT’s linebackers feeling good entering the season.
The return of linebacker coach Lance Thompson has eased the transition from former coordinator Monte Kiffin’s defense to current coordinator Justin Wilcox’s new schemes.
“Just having our same position coach and knowing how he coaches and what he expects of us is a big help to us as a unit,” Lathers said. “He was able to relate a lot of Coach Wilcox’s defensive calls to Monte’s calls, and we were able to pick up from there.”
“As far as his teaching style,” said Reveiz, “he does such a great job of (being) open to questions, why we do this, why we do that. He’s very big on mental reps.”
Thompson’s return was even more special for Reveiz.
“Coach Thompson was a guy personally, too, that with my injury, a lot of coaches push you away when you get hurt,” he said.
“He brought me in when I was hurt. He really built me up and made me feel so a part of it as far as helping the younger guys. He’s done tremendous work in my life.”
Patrick Brown is a freelance contributor.