Sal Sunseri: A.J. Johnson, Curt Maggitt 'the finest young linebackers that I have ever coached'

Linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt have made quite an impression on Tennessee first-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri.

Sunseri, a 27-year coaching veteran, heaped praise on the two sophomores Wednesday.

"I didn't realize this until I finally got the two of them out there together, but those two kids might be the finest young linebackers that I have ever coached," Sunseri said.

Ever? Sunseri spent the past three seasons coaching Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower at Alabama, where he won two national championships. Still, he gave a glowing report on Johnson and Maggitt.

"Their attitude, their work ethic, their toughness — I am really, really pleased with those two guys," Sunseri said. "They have shown great leadership as young kids."

* Sunseri said he wants his players to strive for production, not just execution when they're on the field this year.

That means gap-fitting is great, but making tackles, breaking up passes and forcing turnovers is better.

Who has stood out to him so far? He listed defensive backs Brent Brewer, Brian Randolph and Prentiss Waggner.

"But I want plays on every down," Sunseri said.

* Receivers coach Darin Hinshaw said he expected freshman Alton Howard to eventually make his way back to receiver, but he's also getting work at running back.

* Sunseri said he's been thrilled with Darrington Sentimore's play. He said Sentimore has realized that "power and speed" are more important than size.

* Both Hinshaw and Chaney praised junior receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

"He's done nothing to disappoint us or make us say, 'Wow, what was that?' " Chaney said. "We were comfortable that we knew him pretty well and he's about what we thought he'd be: A big, fast kid who can make plays."

* Defensive line coach John Palermo said incoming freshman Dante "Omari" Phillips has plenty of work to do to play in the SEC.

"Dante is a ways away," Palermo said. "He was not in very good condition. He's a little overweight. He's got a lot to do from a conditioning standpoint."

Palermo was more encouraged about new junior college transfer Daniel McCullers.

"He has worked his fanny off all summer," Palermo said. "When he reported to camp, I would say he was 362 (pounds). In the spring, he was like 390-something. He can still stand to lose some weight. But that kid has made a commitment to try to be a good football player."

* The Vols will depart for Milligan College near Elizabethton on Thursday evening after a final practice at Haslam Field in the afternoon.

The team will stay at Milligan through Aug. 16.

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Comments » 36

Cousin_Eddie writes:

Probably a little coachspeak involved in those comments, but he clearly thinks highly of both of them. Good to hear!

spvol writes:

Go Vols! Show Milligan no mercy!

Ironcity writes:

I am drinking the orange koolaid and loving it!!

ACWLY writes:

Good article ...I don't know how much to read into it, but theres a different feeling around our team this year ... and that's a good thing!!!

GreerVol22 writes:

recycled story, but nice praise none the less.

orangeJACKET writes:

what the heck man. why do people assume that this is coach speak. what if they are two of the best young backers he's ever coached. i have faith in them. they were flat out studs comming in, and from what i've seen, they've lived up to the hype. good times ahead. gbo!!!!!!!!!

lomas98 writes:

Johnson and maggitt were good as freshmen, but I think Wilcox's defense limited their play making abilities. They racked up a bunch of tackles but when you are tackling people after they gained 4 or 5 yards those don't mean much. I look for these guys to make some splash plays this year...tackles for loss, pass breakups, forced fumbles, etc. I think that is what sal means when he says production, not just execution. Making a tackle for loss on 3rd down to get off the field is production, making one after a 3 yard gain on 3rd and 1 is executing a tackle and not letting him get past you.

OrangePsyched writes:

Sal knows defense. Looks like he's pretty happy with LBs and DBs. If our DL develops to it's potential our defense will be at least good. If you combine only good with our offense this team can beat anyone.

UT4prez writes:

I love this game. I start thinking 7 wins and then I read the articles and we inch closer and then it becomes 8. Then I read some more articles and hear the practice reports and now I'm leaning towards 9. I don't take it too seriously but I have no problem sitting down at 9 in the morning and watching football until after midnight. There's nothing like the feel of a new season coming soon and I can't wait for that chill to hit the air right around the SC game. It's almost football time in Tennessee and no matter what it is certainly great to be a Tennessee Vol! Yep. I'm up to 9 wins. We're going to fry some Gators! I've seen some amazing Florida games in Neyland and I truly believe this year will be another one. Right now I'm thinking UGA, Bama, and possibly SC beat us. However, we can beat any team and we certainly can be upset by someone too. The uncertainty adds to the excitement!

thevoice writes:

Just win, baby!

SIMSVOL writes:

Great testament to the young, committed VOLS squad. Love it. Coming from Sal, that means a lot. Go VOLS!

PowerT4L writes:

Is it me or does UT not resemble a poor NFL team? even down to facilities.. JS

I really think we (arguably) are top 3 in the SEC in..

Quartback, O-line, Recievers, and Top 5 D-line if McCULLERS is a beast.

You watch if UT wins convincingly their first 4 games they will receive big buzz around CFB because this team COULD be very very good.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to Cousin_Eddie:

Probably a little coachspeak involved in those comments, but he clearly thinks highly of both of them. Good to hear!

Probably, but coach Sal doesn't just dole out compliments..I think he is really impressed with their skill level and with some of our returning players (like injured Lathers) the future is looking bright Orange on the hill..GBO!!

clvolfan writes:

WOW! and he has not seen them play a game here yet...for the VOLS,that is.

Stooley_Dinks writes:

The headline is like watching MSNBC. Sal said "might be..." not are. This is BS reporting and I absolutely hate bush league out of context quoting. Example "I can't believe you thought I stole that laptop in the athletic dorm" = "...I stole that laptop in the athletic dorm". Bush league.

However, for Sal to even say "might be" is really good. So just be transparent and let that be it. Might be is way better than pretty good.

GreerVol22 writes:

in response to RockyTopRenegade:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I'm pretty sure its recycled from this 12:40 post. just a few lines changed up front. Not old...just a do over...KNS is great at that.
http://www.govolsxtra.com/news/2012/a...

Orangeblood13 writes:

in response to Ironcity:

I am drinking the orange koolaid and loving it!!

Reading your basketball posts who could tell

kazoo writes:

Not to knitpick, but the headline is somewhat misleading. Sal said they "might" be the best young LBs he's coached. That is a rather important word.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to Cousin_Eddie:

Probably a little coachspeak involved in those comments, but he clearly thinks highly of both of them. Good to hear!

I don't know. After watching them play as freshmen, he could really mean it.

Yeah, he coached Upshaw and Hightower at Bama, and they were very good, but they were never Freshman All-American or Freshman All-SEC. Both of them got all their awards in 2011 as seniors.

Johnson was a consensus First Team Freshman All-American, and Freshman All-SEC. His five Freshman All-American honors broke Eric Berry's record of four.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to Stooley_Dinks:

The headline is like watching MSNBC. Sal said "might be..." not are. This is BS reporting and I absolutely hate bush league out of context quoting. Example "I can't believe you thought I stole that laptop in the athletic dorm" = "...I stole that laptop in the athletic dorm". Bush league.

However, for Sal to even say "might be" is really good. So just be transparent and let that be it. Might be is way better than pretty good.

Look dude. Johnson got five Freshman All-American honors. Consensus First-team Freshman All-American. For comparison, those awesome Bama LBs (Hightower and Upshaw), who are now in the NFL, got exactly zero Freshman All-American or Freshman All-SEC honors. They didn't get any All-Anything honors until they were seniors. Also, Eric Berry held UT's previous record for Freshman All-American honors with four.

Johnson is the real deal, and it's very believable that he could be the best young linebacker Sunseri has ever coached.

VolGrad writes:

These two guys also have a pretty good mentor in Herman Lathers. Their praise of his leadership and how he is an open fountain of information for them speaks volumes for how he carries himself on and off the field. Lathers is learning the whole scheme so that he can better assist them. I believe his confidence and maturity is helping to shape them into effective leaders themselves. They came to UT motivated to excel and be the best. Between Sal and Herm, they may very develop into the best pair of LBs Tennessee has ever had. And that is saying something.

Go Vols!!!

Awsomeorange writes:

Both played exceptionaly well after being thrown straight in the fire we know as the SEC. Yes Coach Sal said they may be the best pair of linebackers hes ever coached. I'll take it straight like it's said and love it. He definitely knows a thing or two about linebackers, and given their accomplishments from their freshmen year,and what he sees from them in practice. Saying they may be the best hes ever coached would mean exactly that. Its a great year to be a VOLUNTEER

Vo2Vol writes:

Guys, coach speak is generally stated as "well we are not very good this year, undersized, ..." and then winning 11 games and finding a few All Americans. Coach Sal is genuine and providing some insight of where these two linebackers are as second year players. Despite what "Merlot" says, which we all know is clueless, it is not a stupid thing to say. There is a certain amount of motivation for a player when your coach throws praise your way. It sets an expectation level. Coach Sal would not say it if they were not capable of achieving great things.

gc_scvol writes:

No, what's really dumb is a know nothing who hides behind a keyboard and spews out insults. Your comments show fear and cowardace. The fear comes from knowing that the VOLS are on the rise back to a national competitive status.. And the Cowardace is just built in.

gc_scvol writes:

in response to gc_scvol:

No, what's really dumb is a know nothing who hides behind a keyboard and spews out insults. Your comments show fear and cowardace. The fear comes from knowing that the VOLS are on the rise back to a national competitive status.. And the Cowardace is just built in.

This post was in reply to MGV and yes, I misspelled cowardice..

CarlChilders writes:

in response to MerlotGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

is what you say when you can't think of anything else to say.

CarlChilders writes:

in response to MerlotGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Gee whiz! I'm Merlot!

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

Merlot is a tool and an idiot. What does he mean, "Since I provided on-topic proof (Sal's comments)"? Proof of what? Merlot, every time you post you provide on-topic proof that you're a tool and an idiot.

Since A.J. Johnson got a record five Freshman All-American honors, including consensus First Team Freshman All-American (Eric Berry only got four), and also Freshman All-SEC, and all of those great linebackers Sal coached at Alabama got a total of zero, I'd say there's nothing even remotely dumb, and nothing "coach-speak" about what Sal said.

Also, he said the best "young linebackers" he's ever coached. He's a smart man. Nobody really knows how good these guys will be when they are older, but he has never coached better underclassmen linebackers than this pair.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to MerlotGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Are you a five year old, or Pee Wee Herman?

"I know you are, but what am I?"

gc_scvol writes:

in response to MerlotGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

The only proof you provided was to validate my previous comment. You are so insignificant, that I will not justify your comment with a reply. To engage you in a battle of wits would be futile, since you undoubtly would be completely unarmed. And with that, little troll girl, I take my leave and allow you to wollow in your abject shame and misery!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to lomas98:

Johnson and maggitt were good as freshmen, but I think Wilcox's defense limited their play making abilities. They racked up a bunch of tackles but when you are tackling people after they gained 4 or 5 yards those don't mean much. I look for these guys to make some splash plays this year...tackles for loss, pass breakups, forced fumbles, etc. I think that is what sal means when he says production, not just execution. Making a tackle for loss on 3rd down to get off the field is production, making one after a 3 yard gain on 3rd and 1 is executing a tackle and not letting him get past you.

Very well said, though I fear such lucid reasoning will completely elude the trolls and negavols. Those two kids attracted considerable notice on the field last year despite the team's overall performance against the better competition. I look for the Vols to attack from all angles this year.

TheVolSnake writes:

in response to MerlotGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

???

I have no idea how a CBS article on head coach on the hot seat, has to do with best linebackers a DC (Sal) has coached in 27 year has to do with each other. I trust him when he say they might be the best Linebackers he has coached, mainly because he is stating his opinion and what he has seen though his years.

By the way the only person that counts as far as Dooley being on the hot seat is Hart and he has said the opposite. I am sure 10SE or Gerry will post Harts comments again for you.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to MerlotGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Once again your reading comprehension skills prove totally lacking. He said the best "young linebackers" he's ever coached. There's a difference between the best linebackers ever, and the best young linebackers ever.

See, he means that at this point in their careers, they are better than any other sophomore linebackers he has ever coached, and that is perfectly reasonable. How many other sophomore linebackers do you think he has coached who were freshman All-SEC and consensus first-team freshman All-Americans? How many do you think got more freshman All-American honors than a guy like Eric Berry? Maggitt was impressive, but Johnson was an absolute beast as a freshman.

None of those great linebackers he coached at Bama were freshman All-anything. Chew on that for a while, moron.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to 10seVol85_Part_Deux:

Once again your reading comprehension skills prove totally lacking. He said the best "young linebackers" he's ever coached. There's a difference between the best linebackers ever, and the best young linebackers ever.

See, he means that at this point in their careers, they are better than any other sophomore linebackers he has ever coached, and that is perfectly reasonable. How many other sophomore linebackers do you think he has coached who were freshman All-SEC and consensus first-team freshman All-Americans? How many do you think got more freshman All-American honors than a guy like Eric Berry? Maggitt was impressive, but Johnson was an absolute beast as a freshman.

None of those great linebackers he coached at Bama were freshman All-anything. Chew on that for a while, moron.

Before anybody even thinks to question this. Hightower started 12 games as a true freshman at Bama and received zero SEC or national awards, either for the season or just for an individual week.

Hoops43 writes:

in response to spvol:

Go Vols! Show Milligan no mercy!

Milligan hasn't lost a game in 60 years. No cupcake game there.

VOLFAN4LIFEgovols writes:

Well coaches do say stuff like that to pump up the players sometimes but I 4 1 believe he was serious. A.J. was good last year so he will probably be a beast this year. UT has a good LB core as far as the starters,I just hope they can stay healthy due to the lack of depth at that position running the 3-4.

What really intrigues me is who he said has stood out to him so far,cause the secondary and Oline was the weakest part of the team last year. I think the Oline has been corrected for this season and if the secondary is better I think UT can win 9 games. GBO

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