Linebacker depth big issue for Vols again

John Propst: We'll do 'whatever we need to do'

John Propst nails siding up on a Habitat for Humanity house in the 4000 block of Geyland Heights Road on Saturday, June 11, 2011. Members of the University of Tennessee football team will be helping to build the house all month long as part of the Vol for Life program.

Photo by Chad Greene

John Propst nails siding up on a Habitat for Humanity house in the 4000 block of Geyland Heights Road on Saturday, June 11, 2011. Members of the University of Tennessee football team will be helping to build the house all month long as part of the Vol for Life program.

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.

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

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Comments » 37

bUTchVFL writes:

Why have we had such a tough time getting LB's?

dk writes:

in response to bUTchVFL:

Why have we had such a tough time getting LB's?

Fulmer and Chavis, but things will get better in the future.

RoadTrip writes:

I would just throw in the towel. Woe is us. We only have about 7 lb's coming out of spring practice before adding the freshmen into the mix. So I guess we will only be 3 deep. Maybe the other teams will give us a handicap and tell us what plays they are going to run in advance we are so bad.

C'mon - we are UT. The LB's we have will rock some worlds come fall!

VolSkins writes:

I wonder if any of our Defensive Backs coming in are big enough to play LB. Would help with the speed of the SEC

Volz4life writes:

Off the subject... But we need to vote for the Vols (obviously) on this one... http://sports.espn.go.com/sportsnatio...

Pullingguard writes:

Chavis wanted lean and mean fast linebackers, and had very few that weighed more than 220..He developed them from defensive backs and running backs.. There were a few exceptions to this, but normally Chavis did it by developing players from other positions..He
developed some good players.

BleedsOrangeinMO writes:

As Pullingguard stated Chavis developed LB's from other positions. Remember Al Wilson? He was a running back in high school. And he turned out OK on defense.

OrangePride writes:

I wish HL a fast recovery, but it may be that he won't get back on that field til the end of the season, or perhaps not til next season. In the meantime, we may well have to do just what others have said Chavis did........develop one or two others from different positions into mean, butt-kicking linebackers. It's done all the time and we have some good people out there. So we'll see. Defense is going to be somewhat of an adventure early next year, that's for sure! GO VOLS!

V_O_L_S_GO_VOLS_GO writes:

Water is wet.

VolinCalif writes:

in response to V_O_L_S_GO_VOLS_GO:

Water is wet.

Are you sure?!

VOLFAN4LIFEgovols writes:

in response to Volz4life:

Off the subject... But we need to vote for the Vols (obviously) on this one... http://sports.espn.go.com/sportsnatio...

wonder y they put it as smokey and not running thru the T

vut56#231073 writes:

in response to RoadTrip:

I would just throw in the towel. Woe is us. We only have about 7 lb's coming out of spring practice before adding the freshmen into the mix. So I guess we will only be 3 deep. Maybe the other teams will give us a handicap and tell us what plays they are going to run in advance we are so bad.

C'mon - we are UT. The LB's we have will rock some worlds come fall!

Yeah, seven names mentioned and more lurking around? Let's see: 7 x 11 positions x OT and DT = 154 players. Whoa! We can only have 85 plus walk-ons. I know; three LB play at the same time but the point is: we recruited them, we must have thought they could play, so....coach them up and turn them loose. And, what about the good old days when players went both ways? Does bigger = softer? Not with a billion $ training facility. Lets look at the glass half full.

TitanandVolfan4life writes:

CPS is in charge of the LB's so I'm not real worried.

Peter will coach them up and have them ready to take some heads off.

VFL...GO BIG ORANGE!!!

VOLliven2it writes:

I am as concerned about their chemistry playing together as a unit(whole defense)as I am about the depth. We saw last year depth does matter. But having depth and even talent becomes complicated if they do not mesh and play together as a team. I just hope as someone else posted, they are coached to become and do become head hunters. Understand, I don't want them to try to hurt anyone but definitely knock some socks off. GO BIG ORANGE!

SouthDakotaBob writes:

If we can get some contribution from the D line our linebackers will be fine. Works the same way on offense. GBO!!!

easleychuck writes:

in response to V_O_L_S_GO_VOLS_GO:

Water is wet.

Unless it is frozen, then it is hot. Now that I cleared this up for you.

UT has had 2 of their higher rated LB prospects Donald, a 5 Star, and Askew, a 4 Star, totally bust.

That along with numerous injuries to what is available has really thinned things.

Also, the attrition from Fulmer and Kiffin job fiascos has left fewer players available to move to LB from other positions.

Just going to have to bring in a bunch next year and keep our fingers crossed that what is there stays healthy. Johnson and Harris will be thrown into the fire early. Here is hoping that they are up to it.

iadvol writes:

in response to VOLFAN4LIFEgovols:

wonder y they put it as smokey and not running thru the T

Because they are idiots..makes zero sense!

PlaidinOrangeandWhite writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I am looking at a 8-4 season Saban.

What about this Maggitt kid. For some reason I am thinking that he has the size and speed for LB. Let's throw this kid in the mix.

VolGrad writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And you followed one stupid statement with another. Typical.

Orange_Scooter writes:

in response to VolGrad:

And you followed one stupid statement with another. Typical.

*gasp* CantStand made a stupid comment? Say it ain't so?!?!?!? I still say CantStand is a former and disgruntled Fulmer supporter that now calls himself a Vandy fan. Then again I also say he's a fat, pudgy loser obsessed with Janzen Jackson.

FearTheVols1252 writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Just as I’m sure you will begin to come up with your own excuses when Vandy begins their typical crusade to another 2-10 season. You’ll begin your long diatribes about how you would rather have a team with players that never get in trouble than a team that can actually win. The 'pathetic' ball is back in your court!

orangeman1 writes:

Actually, Cantstandsaban is about half right. It time for the ones that wanted Fulmer fired to quit using him as an excuse. Theres been 3 recruting classes since Fulmer's firing so quit blaming him. I do believe Dooley is doing what it takes to make UT competetive again, but due to the horrible Kiffin fiasco I give him till 2012 to start competing for the SEC again. Kiffin and staff were supposed to be so great yet still lost 6 games with around 9 players making an NFL roster. I am tired of excuses though. 13 losses in the last 2 years without Fulmer isnt good and injuries have always been a part of the game and never been an excuse for prior coaches teams not to perform well. Its all about expectations and UT fans expect to compete for Championships every year even though personally I think thats expecting too much.

SEAL_9821 writes:

in response to VolSkins:

I wonder if any of our Defensive Backs coming in are big enough to play LB. Would help with the speed of the SEC

If we get Janzen back, wilcox will likely use him as an extra linebacker kinda like M.Kiffin done with Berry on certain packages. We can make it work. Jackson is a solid hitter which is a huge plus.

Orange_Juiced writes:

in response to orangeman1:

Actually, Cantstandsaban is about half right. It time for the ones that wanted Fulmer fired to quit using him as an excuse. Theres been 3 recruting classes since Fulmer's firing so quit blaming him. I do believe Dooley is doing what it takes to make UT competetive again, but due to the horrible Kiffin fiasco I give him till 2012 to start competing for the SEC again. Kiffin and staff were supposed to be so great yet still lost 6 games with around 9 players making an NFL roster. I am tired of excuses though. 13 losses in the last 2 years without Fulmer isnt good and injuries have always been a part of the game and never been an excuse for prior coaches teams not to perform well. Its all about expectations and UT fans expect to compete for Championships every year even though personally I think thats expecting too much.

While I agree with you for the most part Orangeman...and folks need to stop blaming PF...I do have to say that a couple of losing seasons in his last years, and with a couple of subpar recruiting classes, there was at the very least a perceived decline in the program in his last years. Perception suddenly becomes reality when top recruits begin to steer away from a "program in decline."

When that happens, and when you have the attrition that we've had with 3 coaches in 3 years, then making a return to prominence can take a very long time. It's like my doc tells me..."you put on 50 lb over the past 20 years, you're not going to lose it in a couple of weeks."

So while I believe we need to quit blaming PF for our current lot, I do believe that the decline...whether real or perceived...started under his watch. I like the guy, but I am in the camp that it was time for a change.

orangeman1 writes:

in response to Orange_Juiced:

While I agree with you for the most part Orangeman...and folks need to stop blaming PF...I do have to say that a couple of losing seasons in his last years, and with a couple of subpar recruiting classes, there was at the very least a perceived decline in the program in his last years. Perception suddenly becomes reality when top recruits begin to steer away from a "program in decline."

When that happens, and when you have the attrition that we've had with 3 coaches in 3 years, then making a return to prominence can take a very long time. It's like my doc tells me..."you put on 50 lb over the past 20 years, you're not going to lose it in a couple of weeks."

So while I believe we need to quit blaming PF for our current lot, I do believe that the decline...whether real or perceived...started under his watch. I like the guy, but I am in the camp that it was time for a change.

I agree there was a decline from Fulmer's first 10 years, but there were alot of factors involved like loss of good asst coaches and other SEC teams vastly improving. Check Georgia, LSU, and Auburns record before 2001 when UT started to decline and compare it to their record post 01. I just dont think things were as bad as some people make them out to be. Also fans were calling for him to be fired way before 08 or even 05 because of unrealistic expectations. I wouldve like to see Fulmer given another year to see if he could get the offense on the right track since he went outside the box to install a whole new offense since he was just given a contract extension the year before for winning the SEC East. Had he known he would get fired he surely wouldve gone with a different coordinator. He made his mistakes and paid the price. I just wont ever understand the contempt some UT fans have for him.

illinoisvolfan writes:

in response to Orange_Scooter:

*gasp* CantStand made a stupid comment? Say it ain't so?!?!?!? I still say CantStand is a former and disgruntled Fulmer supporter that now calls himself a Vandy fan. Then again I also say he's a fat, pudgy loser obsessed with Janzen Jackson.

One would think CSS would have aligned himself with Alabama, Auburn or Florida, as he seems to be a front-runner type of person. Of course, regarding his comments about Vandy baseball, he is a front-runner. Then again he might just be a fat, pudgy, disgruntled Fulmer supporter obsessed with Janzen Jackson.

keviningeorgia writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yeah, that guy has rung a number of bells!

keviningeorgia writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You have no idea whether Dooley is a good coach or not. I've read several of your previous posts and can tell you don't know a heck of alot about any football coaching and even less about it at UT...

As for Fulmer, opinions are like you know, everybodies got one. And since any idiot can get on here and pontificate, I may as well too. In mine, Fulmer did a GREAT job for several years early on. Mid to late 90's, there was a 5 year period where his teams won the SEC a couple of times, a national title and went 54-8 overall. If you can AVERAGE nearly 11 wins as an SEC team, over 5 years when 13 games is all you play a year, you were better than pretty good. Other than the way Fulmer stabbed John Majors in the back to get the head job, I thought he was doing about as good as you could get in college ball. But, even then, I read posts of people who referred to him as "foolmer" or "The great pumpkin", etc. saying he only got lucky when he won and he should be fired. Yeah, Fulmer had his enemies, mostly from the whole Majors deal then.

Fulmer lost his way back about the time of the Kelley Washington era or "error". He started letting the inmates get control of the asylum and steadily lost control and then games and finally, his job. By the time it happened, it was time for a change at UT.

Dooley may or may not be a good coach, time will tell me. But, thanks for letting me know your opinion.

lomas98 writes:

in response to Orange_Juiced:

While I agree with you for the most part Orangeman...and folks need to stop blaming PF...I do have to say that a couple of losing seasons in his last years, and with a couple of subpar recruiting classes, there was at the very least a perceived decline in the program in his last years. Perception suddenly becomes reality when top recruits begin to steer away from a "program in decline."

When that happens, and when you have the attrition that we've had with 3 coaches in 3 years, then making a return to prominence can take a very long time. It's like my doc tells me..."you put on 50 lb over the past 20 years, you're not going to lose it in a couple of weeks."

So while I believe we need to quit blaming PF for our current lot, I do believe that the decline...whether real or perceived...started under his watch. I like the guy, but I am in the camp that it was time for a change.

Fulmer still was getting decent talent and making everybody happy with top recruiting classes. The 07 class was very good and still had people performing at a high level on last years team. I think the 08 class coming in when Cutcliffe left and the Kiffin 09 class are the reasons we are limited in talent and depth. The 08 class was awful and was by far Fulmer's worst. Even the best players in that class were not great and some even left the program. Kiffin's 09 class was highly ranked but most are not in school anymore. Combined with attrition from the coaching fiasco is why we are limited. I don't know if Dooley is the right long term solution for the job, but it is important he is here at least 4 years to try and rebuild the talent pool.

FarmerVol writes:

The lose of 1 LB in June does not create a depth issue. Lathers will be back.

kazoo writes:

How exactly did Lathers injury his ankle? New injury or lingering old one? Even with him the Vols have problems at LB. Not a strong unit but will hope for the best.

RashaadSalabeb writes:

Chris Donald...where are you?

mhsvol writes:

The one thing that's never discussed on this forum is the fact that opposing teams no longer fear coming into Neyland. And why should they? The place no longer intimidates teams just because of a large crowd. Now, there are large crowds all over the conference, and the difference is that the other crowds are louder.

Teams hate to go to places like LSU because of the noise - yet Tiger Stadium holds about 10,000 less than Neyland.

Until UT gets the bluebloods out of their seats and opening their mouths, Neyland Stadium is going to be no more than a wash for home field advantage.

gormanvol writes:

we should go ahead and put fulmer as A.D. As soon as possible. Before things get any worse... and between him and dooley we can get back to our winning tradition. It may take 3 more years but we have the facilities, we just need to get the whole athletic department staffed and in line.

GBO!!

tovolny writes:

If you don't have GVX247, check out the kid from Tampa Bay receiving an offer from Vols:

http://www.tampabay.com/hometeam/blog...

quickslant writes:

in response to keviningeorgia:

You have no idea whether Dooley is a good coach or not. I've read several of your previous posts and can tell you don't know a heck of alot about any football coaching and even less about it at UT...

As for Fulmer, opinions are like you know, everybodies got one. And since any idiot can get on here and pontificate, I may as well too. In mine, Fulmer did a GREAT job for several years early on. Mid to late 90's, there was a 5 year period where his teams won the SEC a couple of times, a national title and went 54-8 overall. If you can AVERAGE nearly 11 wins as an SEC team, over 5 years when 13 games is all you play a year, you were better than pretty good. Other than the way Fulmer stabbed John Majors in the back to get the head job, I thought he was doing about as good as you could get in college ball. But, even then, I read posts of people who referred to him as "foolmer" or "The great pumpkin", etc. saying he only got lucky when he won and he should be fired. Yeah, Fulmer had his enemies, mostly from the whole Majors deal then.

Fulmer lost his way back about the time of the Kelley Washington era or "error". He started letting the inmates get control of the asylum and steadily lost control and then games and finally, his job. By the time it happened, it was time for a change at UT.

Dooley may or may not be a good coach, time will tell me. But, thanks for letting me know your opinion.

that was awesome...

volman67 writes:

in response to VolSkins:

I wonder if any of our Defensive Backs coming in are big enough to play LB. Would help with the speed of the SEC

there must be a couple of guys you would think could put on some weight and come up to be able to help, but good idea. Go Vols

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