Freshman linebackers showing 'steady demeanor'

Dooley brings on the noise for the Vols

Tennessee freshmen A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt haven't changed much ever since it became clear that they both would be starting at linebacker to open the season, and that's exactly the way their coaches like it.

That's how they vaulted up the depth chart in the first place.

"They've got a real steady demeanor about them," coach Derek Dooley said Wednesday. "I hope they can maintain that once the battles begin."

When Maggitt and Johnson trot on to the field for the first defensive snaps of their respective college careers against Montana on Saturday (TV: pay-per-view, 6 p.m.), they'll provide a double shot of UT history. Since 1972, when freshmen eligibility was reinstated, no UT true freshman has ever started at linebacker in a season opener.

Peter Sirmon, who will be coaching his first game as UT's linebackers coach Saturday, didn't see what the big deal was. It's simply an amalgamation of Maggitt's and Johnson's respective talent levels, the Vols' low number of veterans and an overall trend in college football that has prompted more and more freshmen to see the field, he said.

"We've made a concerted effort here to be what we consider freshman-friendly to make sure the best players are on the field and put them in a position to help our team," Sirmon said. "This is kind of what Coach (Justin) Wilcox's philosophy is about — getting the best guys on the field — and we'll see how they perform."

Both Sirmon and Dooley cited the duo's ability to overcome a mistake and never make it again as a reason why they've risen to the top and stayed there. That's why they're two of just three true freshmen, joining cornerback Justin Coleman, who will start Saturday.

"It's what you want from most young players, and it gives you an early indicator of how quickly they can progress and how high their ceiling is going to be," Dooley said. "What concerns you a lot is when the guys are making the same mistakes over and over and over. You get a little concerned about their ability to survive, their survival skills.

"They haven't shown that, so it's a good thing."

Middle linebacker Austin Johnson said he will be there if Maggitt or A.J. Johnson need him. Sirmon, though, would prefer the senior to worry about his own responsibilities while the freshmen figure everything out by themselves.

"Austin's role, in my opinion, is not to line up everybody on the field," Sirmon said. "I want him to be vocal. If those guys don't get lined up, it's not Austin's responsibility to go over there and move them and tell them what to do every play.

"They're going to be starting in the SEC, and they've got to practice like it and they've got to have the accountability that it requires. I don't really care what age they are."

Still Time: Izauea Lanier is big for a cornerback and he played nothing but safety last year at East Mississippi Community College.

With Janzen Jackson dismissed from the team and freshman Pat Martin seeking a transfer, Lanier remains a possible candidate to swap spots in the defensive backfield.

Neither Dooley nor secondary coach Terry Joseph completely ruled out that possibility, but they both assured Lanier would stay at cornerback for Saturday's game.

"It's something we might take a look at," Joseph said. "We're going to see how it goes through the season and it's good we've got some spread teams back to back, so we'll see how it goes."

Noise Violation: Everything from Guns N' Roses to Bob Marley blared over the loudspeakers at Wednesday's practice, as UT prepared for the crowd noise that will engulf Neyland Stadium on Saturday.

Dooley wasn't exactly thrilled with how the Vols handled the distraction.

"We had a lot of rat-trapping," Dooley said. "Made a lot of mistakes. A lot of the noise gets you thinking. Good thing we've got another day to try to polish it up. Went out there and tried to create a little chaos for the young guys, and that's what it looked like.

"That's why we have an extra day, and hopefully we can polish it up."

With a starting lineup that will boast three freshmen on defense and eight sophomores on offense, Dooley said he wasn't surprised by the "chaos."

"It's that line," he said. "You don't get disappointed if you (don't) expect them to come out there and be perfect when the crowd noise hits. I knew what would happen."

Seen In Red: Wide receiver Justin Hunter wore a red, non-contact jersey as a precautionary measure at Wednesday's practice.

Dooley did not specify why Hunter needed the extra protection, but stressed that it was nothing serious.

Game-Time Decision: Special teams coach Eric Russell said no decision has been made about who will catch punts Saturday.

Wide receiver Anthony Anderson and freshman running back Marlin Lane are the two remaining candidates.

"I think we've got a pretty good feel for them," Russell said. "Now it's how they're going to react come game time when the lights are on."

Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble

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Comments » 29

Volfan18 writes:

the Vols are about to be nasty again at LB anyone remember the Kevin Simon and Kevin Burnett era a few years ago... I think its back

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say ring the bell lets get this show on the road...Witch Doctor on vacation but believe he will go into office Friday just to tackle somebody.
Bones never lie.

pingkr62 writes:

The future's bright. If we can hang on for another season or two, the glory days will be back. G.B.O.!!!

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to SpongeBobOrangePantz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Witch Doctor loved those! Go Vols!
Bones never lie.

keepitreal4vols writes:

in response to FirstAndGoal:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

After that game is over, you'll wonder why you just wasted 3 hours of your life.

pingkr62 writes:

in response to keepitreal4vols:

After that game is over, you'll wonder why you just wasted 3 hours of your life.

No kidding, at least the game will be close about the middle of the first quarter. G.B.O.!!!

BigVolFaninSC writes:

Did he say EIGHT sophomores starting on offense?! Grow up fast my boys! GBO!

volzcrushm writes:

in response to SpongeBobOrangePantz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

OMG!!...hilarious!

VolGrad writes:

Johnson, Johnson and Maggitt..., sounds like a law firm. Personal injury, no doubt. Except they'll be inflicting it on the opposition.

GBO!

OrangePsyched writes:

I love the movie Friday Night Lights. My favorite part is the halftime and there is the player who rarely talked all season. He explodes and says hit anything that moves..if the referee moves hit him! Hope out D is a bunch of heat seekers out there this year. Old Smokey straining at the leash...he knows it's about time to run through the T!

volfaninutah writes:

Maybe we have the rebirth of the Hacksaw Reynolds and Steve Kiner days. Man what a pair those two were.. Hope these two can stay healthy and really clog up the middle. Says a lot about them.. stepping right in as freshmen. I can't wait till Saturday!!!!

OSUVol writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say ring the bell lets get this show on the road...Witch Doctor on vacation but believe he will go into office Friday just to tackle somebody.
Bones never lie.

The Witch Doctor is back! Excellent.

standfast#211788 writes:

in response to Volfan18:

the Vols are about to be nasty again at LB anyone remember the Kevin Simon and Kevin Burnett era a few years ago... I think its back

Not meaning to be disrespectful to the young poster, but how about Mike Lucci, Frank Emmanuel, Tom Fisher, Doug Archibald, Hacksaw Reynolds, Jamie Rotella, Andy Spiva, Steve Kiner, just to name a few of the great linebackers who played for UT?

DooleysOrangePants writes:

in response to Volfan18:

the Vols are about to be nasty again at LB anyone remember the Kevin Simon and Kevin Burnett era a few years ago... I think its back

i was thinking more like raynoch thompson and al wilson.

DooleysOrangePants writes:

^^championship^^

Vol86 writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say ring the bell lets get this show on the road...Witch Doctor on vacation but believe he will go into office Friday just to tackle somebody.
Bones never lie.

I got in the office at 8:30. At 8:35 I tackled Va. tech fan. She was good sport about it.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to Vol86:

I got in the office at 8:30. At 8:35 I tackled Va. tech fan. She was good sport about it.

Witch Doctor chuckle so hard Witch Doctor think he leave "skiddie marks". Witch Doctor say it allowed as long as not helmet first and you didnt drive her into ground. lol
Bones never lie.

VOLliven2it writes:

I hope we see a bunch of mean LBs especially when the other teams run the ball. These two neweys seem to have their heads on straight. I hope that continues into the games and they grow even better. Gonna need LBs to be tough and hit hard. By the way, don't just hit hard, wrap hard and take them to the ground hard. GO BIG ORANGE! Two days to go.

keepitreal4vols writes:

in response to standfast#211788:

Not meaning to be disrespectful to the young poster, but how about Mike Lucci, Frank Emmanuel, Tom Fisher, Doug Archibald, Hacksaw Reynolds, Jamie Rotella, Andy Spiva, Steve Kiner, just to name a few of the great linebackers who played for UT?

Sorry Grandpa, can't relate to any of those players. UT is rich in tradition and history so its cool you have your own set of "Greats"

Pompey writes:

in response to standfast#211788:

Not meaning to be disrespectful to the young poster, but how about Mike Lucci, Frank Emmanuel, Tom Fisher, Doug Archibald, Hacksaw Reynolds, Jamie Rotella, Andy Spiva, Steve Kiner, just to name a few of the great linebackers who played for UT?

....UT was Linebacker U long before it was wide receiver U....

allvol32 writes:

in response to DooleysOrangePants:

i was thinking more like raynoch thompson and al wilson.

My nickname for Raynoch Thompson was "headknock" and he did a lot of that!

Crutch writes:

in response to Volfan18:

the Vols are about to be nasty again at LB anyone remember the Kevin Simon and Kevin Burnett era a few years ago... I think its back

Then Rico McCoy and Jerod Mayo after them!

trubleoj#657755 writes:

Witch Doctor works in an office!!!! what is the world coming to? Unless it is a Doctor's office , which would make WD --and OB-GYN?

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to trubleoj#657755:

Witch Doctor works in an office!!!! what is the world coming to? Unless it is a Doctor's office , which would make WD --and OB-GYN?

Witch Doctor say "BONES" never lie.
Bones never lie.
(Lol)

illinoisvolfan writes:

in response to standfast#211788:

Not meaning to be disrespectful to the young poster, but how about Mike Lucci, Frank Emmanuel, Tom Fisher, Doug Archibald, Hacksaw Reynolds, Jamie Rotella, Andy Spiva, Steve Kiner, just to name a few of the great linebackers who played for UT?

Amen, standfast...

However, don't forget Dale Jones. That INT against Bama in 1985 is still one of my all-time favorite Vol moments.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to volfaninutah:

Maybe we have the rebirth of the Hacksaw Reynolds and Steve Kiner days. Man what a pair those two were.. Hope these two can stay healthy and really clog up the middle. Says a lot about them.. stepping right in as freshmen. I can't wait till Saturday!!!!

I hope the fact that two freshmen are starting says more about them than that we don't have anybody else! As long as they are SEC-caliber players, I don't care that they are freshmen. If the coaches say they are, that's good enough for me. Let's get it on!

Colliervol writes:

Hold it fellas. I heard Chris Low in an interview today and he said.....wait for it now.....Curt Magitte looks like "the next Al Wilson". (Well actually he said he reminds him of a young Leonard Little too. I'd take either one.)

I'm amazed nobody mentioned Al in their list of UT linebackers. Might have been the best of the bunch. I'm certain he was at the top of the list of best leaders we've ever had.

bcm4ut writes:

eric westmoreland and anthony sessions were to of my favorite lbs. Westmoreland though hardly ever mentioned was a great lb for the vols, and sessions came at qbs like a missle. Anyone remenber the hit on the Fla. reciever in the 2001 game were he was knocked out cold and started convulsing on the field where the lay uncouncious? That was Westmoreland that laid that hit. His teammates called him "evil" if I remember correctly.
Go Big Orange.
Vols 45
Grizzlies 13

dnlarchibald#1372389 writes:

Great year for a team full of young players and injuries. Looking forward to next year already. Living in Florida makes it difficult to see games except on tv, but an old teammate of ours, Jerry Holloway, keeps us informed about everything thats going on with older players and today's players through his email address. Thanks Jerry. Doug Archibald '64-'66

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