Perhaps the thinnest position on the Tennessee roster will be even more shorthanded when camp opens this fall.
And one more player expected to provide valuable depth in the middle of the defense will just be coming off yet another surgery.
Vols coach Derek Dooley confirmed through UT spokesman Jimmy Stanton on Saturday night that returning starter Herman Lathers won’t be ready for the beginning of the season after fracturing an ankle last week, an injury that will require surgery to repair and has no definite timetable for return. Backup Greg King also required arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, but the procedure performed Friday is expected to have him ready in time for camp in August.
The potential loss of Lathers could be particularly damaging for the Vols, who were counting on the only returning starter at linebacker to bounce back from the shoulder surgery that kept him out of spring practice to anchor a group that doesn’t boast much experience.
The junior started each of the 12 games he played in last season, missing just one contest with an ankle injury unrelated to the one suffered some time in the middle of last week. His 75 tackles were the second-highest total on the team behind only Nick Reveiz, one of the two departed seniors who filled the starting roles alongside Lathers at linebacker.
The post-spring depth chart released by the Vols listed King as the backup behind Lathers at the weak-side position, and both have had their share of physical concerns lately. King missed almost all of last season after undergoing surgery on his knee, which has been a recurring problem for him throughout a promising career that has struggled to gain traction because of the run of bad health.
The latest procedure should have King back on the field when practice resumes in August, putting him in the mix of a job competition that will likely now feature more opportunities for freshmen like A.J. Johnson and Christian Harris as the Vols continue to deal with a linebacking corps that continues to struggle to avoid the training room.
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.