Tennessee doesn't have to completely rebuild its depth chart without Herman Lathers.
It just has to put the pieces back where they were two months ago.
Relegated to the sideline throughout all of spring practice, the return of a healthy Lathers was expected to be a significant boost not only for the linebackers but the entire UT defense. Instead, Lathers required another surgery to repair a fractured ankle and the depth at his position is again a valid concern.
But if nothing else, the Vols already have some experience dealing with life without Lathers, and at this point it's almost as if nothing has changed for Austin Johnson, Daryl Vereen and John Propst after spending 15 practices developing some chemistry with the first unit.
"We'll just do whatever is best for the team," Propst said Saturday while participating in UT's Habitat for Humanity project with the sophomores. "We're working right now (the same as spring), but it's just whatever we need to do. Austin can play (middle), Austin can play (outside), we're all just playing and learning different positions. Come fall, we'll just do whatever we have to do.
"Somebody is just going to have to step up really. I hate it for Herman. I mean, he's an awesome player and he was just getting back healthy. I just feel so bad for him, he's a great person. But somebody is just going to have to step up."
Perhaps the most likely candidate to do so as the Vols continue offseason workouts is Propst, who could slide right back into the starting lineup at middle linebacker and allow Johnson to fill the other outside position opposite Vereen.
UT will also have a pair of talented freshmen vying for playing time early with A.J. Johnson and Christian Harris on campus, and sophomore Raiques Crump will also be in the mix after leaving spring with a spot on the two-deep.
The other option is oft-injured junior Greg King, who like Lathers has had his share of problems staying healthy and will be coming off a surgery as well when fall camp opens in August. But it's that kind of uncertainty across the board that has made the cross-training approach employed by linebackers coach Peter Sirmon so important, since the ability to play multiple roles could mask the lack of depth he has on hand.
"It's a challenge for us," Sirmon said in March. "Defensively we're going to try to find the right spots to play them so they can help themselves do the things we're asking them to do. Some guys might shuffle around a little bit as we ask them to mesh and try to get the best three people on the field.
"(The ability to develop talent) is going to be tested right off the bat. We've got some young players coming in that are very talented. It's the coach's responsibility to get them up to speed as quickly as possible."
Without their most experienced linebacker and top returning tackler from a year ago for an indefinite period of time, that process figures to be even more critical for the Vols now.
But Lathers is out at least through the start of the season, so there's really no choice for UT other than to move on - or back to where they've already been.
"I wouldn't say the (freshmen) have pressure on them, they're coming in here and they're going to have to step up and play," Propst said. "We're young, and from the linebackers' standpoint, they've done a great job so far. The future looks bright and they're really doing a good job, but we'll see this fall. I think we'll learn a little bit more once we put the pads on and everything, but I don't think they really have much pressure on them. They just need to get out there and have fun and compete and play.
"It's another hole we've got to fill. It happens, and somebody has to step up."
That guy appears to be Propst, and the spot he's filling was already his in the spring.