Austin in the middle: Johnson ready for multiple roles at linebacker

Tennessee linebacker Austin Johnson waits for directions during practice at Haslam Field on Thursday, August 4, 2011.

(Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Photo by Saul Young, Saul Young

Tennessee linebacker Austin Johnson waits for directions during practice at Haslam Field on Thursday, August 4, 2011. (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

UT coach Derek Dooley talks about Matt Milton

Injuries in the spring wouldn't allow it.

Another big one in the summer again blocked a move.

It appears fall and the third time trying to get Austin Johnson back to middle linebacker could be the charm.

The senior isn't opposed to moving positions, and he's prepared to handle multiple roles for the Tennessee defense if need be. But the desire all along for the Vols has been to use Johnson as an anchor and veteran presence in the center of the action, and a couple freshmen have perhaps provided just what they needed to finally give him a permanent home there.

"We've felt that way from the beginning," UT coach Derek Dooley said after practice Tuesday morning. "We think he has better production at (middle linebacker), but we also feel like he's got the best command of the defense for the calls. He's a senior, got leadership, and that's what you want out of your middle linebackers.

"Hopefully these two freshmen will continue to perform the way they've been performing, and if they do we can keep Austin in the middle."

The newcomers have generated plenty of excitement throughout the first couple weeks of camp, but no matter how much Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson have been talked about, it was their mere appearance with the first-team defense in scrimmages last week that spoke volumes about their potential.

If they're both capable of living up to the hype on the outside once the season starts, that should allow UT to keep Austin Johnson in the middle of them — though part of the responsibility for bringing the young guys along will fall on the shoulders of the old man in between.

"The (middle) linebacker has to direct the whole defense, and if someone isn't lined up right, then it's his responsibility to get them lined up right," Austin Johnson said. "The freshmen, they know what they're doing and I don't have to correct them much, but being in the middle definitely helps us.

"I know I'm a senior and I have two young guys next to me right now, so I feel like I need to be in the middle to kind of command the whole defense and be a leader of our defense."

Inside or out, the Vols have been counting on Austin Johnson to provide a steady hand at linebacker and build on the productive season he had off the bench a year ago in posting 44 tackles with 3.5 takedowns for a loss, an interception, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.

But whether or not he'd be doing that in the middle has been in doubt since spring practice, when offseason shoulder surgery for Herman Lathers left a hole at weak-side linebacker.

Another injury for Lathers on the first day of summer workouts forced UT to scrap its projected rotation again, with John Propst sliding up to replace Austin Johnson as he moved outside opposite Daryl Vereen.

The influx of some new bodies has changed things once more for the linebackers, but this time it's given the Vols at least one thing they were hoping for months ago.

"The coaches had said stuff to me about making sure I knew the position this summer, so I had always known it was possible and I had to know it anyway because we cross-train different positions," Austin Johnson said. "When Herman went down, I knew that it was just another opportunity where I might have to go play over there if we needed it, and it's just another way to create more depth.

"But I'm definitely the most comfortable here now. That's kind of where I want to be, I want to be in the middle."

The Vols want him at that spot, too. Now it looks like they might have found a way to keep him there.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2011 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 15

FiftyOne writes:

How about these young OLB's? I like what I am hearing on this website about them. Have any of you seen them play in person?

Prostar writes:

Haven't seen them, only know what I read. They must be impressive or we'd be hearing what a mess we're in at LB. Hope we have some "head hunters" out there. By the way, seems players (some 70 of them) have been getting improper benefits at Univ. of Miami. After UNC, OSU, Oregon and now Miami, hope the NCAA has a large investigative staff.

wagee12 writes:

Had Flummo not moved Austin to fullback, he would probably be an All-SEC candidate right now. He was recruited as a linebacker and has the grit and mentality of a MLB.

CroKev writes:

I know it's early but imagine how Propst, Vereen, Reveiz and even Lathers must be feeling right now! And Christian Harris might be in the mix as well. If he had committed to UT, I wonder if Dawson would have even been in the mix. And of course, with Santos, Henderson and Peters already committed, it looks like we're going to have some great depth at the coveted LB position at UT. I sure hope Wilcox and Sirmon stick around for a while to develop these guys into NFL first rounders...

RoadTrip writes:

How can this not be good news for the Vols? Depth is very important at the LB position as they can get nicked up often.

I agree with Wagee12. All of the NC folks knew Austin was a top LB in high school. So Fulmer decides to move him to offense, just like he did a bunch of guys through the years. Messed up a bunch of them, helped a few. Austin was one he messed up until CDD and staff came along.

VOLliven2it writes:

I'm hoping to see some big hits early and often from our LBs we will need them with our question of size on the D-Line. Lead them Austin and let's have a take down(opposing offenses)year.

Tau_of_Tennessee writes:

in response to Prostar:

Haven't seen them, only know what I read. They must be impressive or we'd be hearing what a mess we're in at LB. Hope we have some "head hunters" out there. By the way, seems players (some 70 of them) have been getting improper benefits at Univ. of Miami. After UNC, OSU, Oregon and now Miami, hope the NCAA has a large investigative staff.

I saw the allegations against the "U" and you would think they would have had better results with that kind of money thrown at players.

But when you think about it that was peanuts compared to what they pay at Auburn.

castoff121 writes:

in response to Tau_of_Tennessee:

I saw the allegations against the "U" and you would think they would have had better results with that kind of money thrown at players.

But when you think about it that was peanuts compared to what they pay at Auburn.

NCAA.....Need Cash? Attend Auburn! That was a joke when I went to UT in the early nineties. Not much has changed.

tree_em_smokey writes:

in response to VOL_GOD:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Hahahahaha!!! For real!

VOLinATL writes:

Dear KNS: Please stop posting picures of those ugly black jerseys. Even if you might like them (and there is no accounting for taste) it is another reminder of that "jack-a!!" Lane Kiffin!

Volunatic writes:

in response to VOLinATL:

Dear KNS: Please stop posting picures of those ugly black jerseys. Even if you might like them (and there is no accounting for taste) it is another reminder of that "jack-a!!" Lane Kiffin!

I don't see any pictures of black jerseys on this article's page.

Volunteer-Varmint writes:

in response to Volunatic:

I don't see any pictures of black jerseys on this article's page.

Me neither. I kinda liked the black jerseys. They don't remind me of surfer boy. They remind me of halloween night when TN beat the snot, candy corn, and "chocolate" out of those chickens from the other side of the beautiful Smokies! GO BIG ORANGE!!!!

therealUT98 writes:

in response to FiftyOne:

How about these young OLB's? I like what I am hearing on this website about them. Have any of you seen them play in person?

I've seen AJ play against my high school we had a good running back that was gettin recruited by a couple sec school but signed with Eastern Kentucky. We played Gainsveil and AJ dominated the whole game hes going to be a really good player

Volunatic writes:

in response to Volunteer-Varmint:

Me neither. I kinda liked the black jerseys. They don't remind me of surfer boy. They remind me of halloween night when TN beat the snot, candy corn, and "chocolate" out of those chickens from the other side of the beautiful Smokies! GO BIG ORANGE!!!!

Well said. I enjoyed watching it, regardless of the jersey color.

CoffCoVol writes:

Fulmer listened to Dave Clawson and ok'd the move of AJ to the 'flex' TE as a true freshman. Chavis protested in the meeting but Fulmer let Clawson have him on offense. Wasted 2 years kicking out the DE for about 5-6 plays a game. He caught a great TD in the black jerseys but should have been redshirted and the MLB for 4 years. That's just another nail that ended Fulmers job.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features