Herman Lathers happy to be back at full speed

Spring practice a chance for first contact in a year

Herman Lathers after the first day of spring practice

Herman Lathers is wearing the right color again, the one that gives him license to hit somebody and seek out the contact he's been missing.

All he needs now are some pads.

After sitting out spring camp a year ago and all of last season after successive injuries and surgeries, the Tennessee linebacker was once again able to blend in with his defensive teammates in an orange jersey and practice without much trouble on Monday morning.

The only thing keeping Lathers from feeling all the way back was the same limitation facing all the Vols, who couldn't go full-contact as they opened spring practice with an acclimation workout in helmets only. But he's got the date circled to let out some pent-up aggression later this week.

"Today definitely wasn't enough," Lathers said. "Thursday (in full pads) will be good for me. I don't think they'll let us really hit like I want to hit, but it will be good.

"I miss the contact a lot. Every time we were doing seven-on-seven and the offense is always cheering, it just gets me mad. Especially when they catch balls and we know we can't hit them."

Lathers has been craving that kind of contact for a while now, having essentially been on the shelf since the Music City Bowl at the end of the 2010 season after having an injured shoulder worked on and following that up with a fractured ankle during a workout last summer.

The senior initially had targeted a return in the middle of last season, but he clearly wasn't ready even by November as he started easing himself back into a few drills and tried to regain the form that had made him one of UT's top tacklers two years ago.

Even now his ankle isn't completely healed, though at an estimated "85 or 90 percent" Lathers was still able to get to work at the middle linebacker spot in the new 3-4 defense the Vols are installing.

"It's great to see him," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "Of course, he's got a lot of leadership, he's got experience, he's a veteran.

"I just hope he's able to maintain that. But until we get out there and he goes through a number of practices hitting, we really won't know because the physical toll that your body takes is going to be the key. We have to try to manage him the right way."

Lathers is well versed in that sort of management by now, particularly as he, Dooley and the training staff weighed the possible pros and cons of trying to get him back on the field late last year.

Ultimately Lathers just wasn't healthy enough to contribute, as tough as he admitted it was to sit and watch instead of helping fight for a bowl bid that would have sent the seniors "out the right way."

But his work ethic in battling through multiple rehabs and the years of experience Lathers has in the program dating back to a redshirt season in 2008 has clearly impressed a younger group of linebackers he's working with now, especially a sophomore who has never actually played a snap next to him.

And as Curt Maggitt fights for reps at the same spot in the middle with Lathers, the two seem have developed a strong relationship while bonding over videos of 3-4 defenses in the NFL and from new coordinator Sal Sunseri's last stop at Alabama.

"Working with Herm, we'd come in and watch film every day," Maggitt said. "He's a big leader. Even last year when he wasn't playing, he was still a leader and somebody that everybody looked up to. This offseason, every time I saw him he was always happy and always working hard, just a fun person to be around and learn from.

"He looks great right now, that's all I can say. He looks real good."

If all goes according to the script, Lathers can give some offensive players a close look to judge for themselves later in the week.

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.

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Comments » 23

SummittsCourt writes:

Having Herman Lathers on the field is a good thing for the Vols! They desperately missed him last year.

VolGrad writes:

All the best Lathers. Can't wait to see you back out there flying around on defense.

nocleats writes:

Lathers and King truly deserve a season with health. Heres to hoping that both get back to 100% and improve through the season.

FWBVol writes:

Is there any possibility that CDD and the staff will apply to get Lathers a medical redshirt year for last season since wasn't able to play?

If I'm thinking correctly, if they even can make the application for the medical redshirt, they can't do it until after this season.

TitanandVolfan4life writes:

I think medical redshirts are applied for after their Senior season if the player wants to come back and play another year.

It's going to be good to have HL back on the field showing serious leadership and knocking some people on their butts.

Best of Success to the young man.

VFL...GBO!!!

BrassMonkey writes:

Too bad you have to come back to a team with a division II level coach. Oh well, make the best of it.

jakethevolguy writes:

Hey, HL, just don't hurt anyone on offense. We need them too. lol GBO!!!

duncanvol writes:

I have not heard AJ johnson's name mentioned any at middle. whats up with that?

volnvette03 writes:

in response to duncanvol:

I have not heard AJ johnson's name mentioned any at middle. whats up with that?

I guess because he graduated last year. Think so?

volnvette03 writes:

in response to volnvette03:

I guess because he graduated last year. Think so?

My bad, I was thinking Austin Johnson. AJ is much more suited for outside lb in my opinion.

volfanz writes:

in response to duncanvol:

I have not heard AJ johnson's name mentioned any at middle. whats up with that?

Good question. Along with AJ, we've had a couple big bodies recruited to come in at linebacker within the last couple years, yet there is no word on them.....wonder what's up. I can see some being delegated to the practice squad, but I remember a couple coming in with great potential. Makes me wonder?

volfanz writes:

in response to volnvette03:

My bad, I was thinking Austin Johnson. AJ is much more suited for outside lb in my opinion.

I don't know. AJ came in bigger than C.M., at like 245 lbs. I believe. That is Mike backer size if you ask me. Especially as he still has a couple years to add to the frame in the weight room.

FLVOL_79 writes:

Excited to have this guy back in the lineup this fall!

GerryOP writes:

Good to see Lathers back. Stay healthy young man!

Dang! Looking at some of the pics coming out of practice, there's been a lot of growin' going on in K'town this winter. These kids don't look like kids anymore!

Seriously, for the 1st time in several years, these guys look like college football players, not a bunch of high school kids. Refreshing and promising....

158 - Stay tuned...

givehim6 writes:

Take it easy on the guys in orange this spring HL but when fall comes around and the SC.ST. guys and UF guys are on the field take all that rage on them, can't wait to see you lay the first HIT on some body. Stay healty my friend.

texasvols writes:

Stay thirsty my friend, thirsty for Gator meat, Elephant hide,and bulldog fur, HL gonna knock some heads, TB gonna step up and be a leader, CM gonna get some sacks at olb. GO VOLS!!!!!!!!

PUL4VOLS writes:

I just hope the whole Vol defense gets Lathersed up and puts a lot of hurting on SEC offenses. We are gonna need it bad this fall. GO VOLS!

johnlg00 writes:

Looks like Austin and some posters are going to have to brush up on their terminology if the Vols are going to play a 3-4 this year. In the 3-4, there are two inside LBs (ILB) and two outside LBs (OLB); there is no "middle" or "Mike" LB. One major advantage of the 3-4 is that the LBs can be shifted to load up one side or the other so they can present a balanced front when desired, but there is never a "middle" LB as such. Whatever they call the position he plays, I'm very glad to have Herman back this year. He could be a real difference maker on a team that needs as many as they can get.

VolGrad writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Looks like Austin and some posters are going to have to brush up on their terminology if the Vols are going to play a 3-4 this year. In the 3-4, there are two inside LBs (ILB) and two outside LBs (OLB); there is no "middle" or "Mike" LB. One major advantage of the 3-4 is that the LBs can be shifted to load up one side or the other so they can present a balanced front when desired, but there is never a "middle" LB as such. Whatever they call the position he plays, I'm very glad to have Herman back this year. He could be a real difference maker on a team that needs as many as they can get.

Actually, that may all depend on how it is implemented. Often, the strong side "inside" linebacker is still called the Mike (middle LB) in a 3-4 defense. As in the 4-3, this "middle LB" in a 3-4 is "quarterback" of the defense, making the the defensive calls. The weak inside is called Will, strong outside is SAM, and weak outside is Jack.

This concludes today's lesson sponsored by wikipedia. :)

volfanz writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Looks like Austin and some posters are going to have to brush up on their terminology if the Vols are going to play a 3-4 this year. In the 3-4, there are two inside LBs (ILB) and two outside LBs (OLB); there is no "middle" or "Mike" LB. One major advantage of the 3-4 is that the LBs can be shifted to load up one side or the other so they can present a balanced front when desired, but there is never a "middle" LB as such. Whatever they call the position he plays, I'm very glad to have Herman back this year. He could be a real difference maker on a team that needs as many as they can get.

I understand the concept of the various linebacker positions under both the 4-3 and the 3-4 defense. I was simply referring that AJ has the prototypical size to play the "mike" backer vs. an outside backer slot.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to VolGrad:

Actually, that may all depend on how it is implemented. Often, the strong side "inside" linebacker is still called the Mike (middle LB) in a 3-4 defense. As in the 4-3, this "middle LB" in a 3-4 is "quarterback" of the defense, making the the defensive calls. The weak inside is called Will, strong outside is SAM, and weak outside is Jack.

This concludes today's lesson sponsored by wikipedia. :)

All good defensive teams should be multiple in their fronts and the specific range of assignments the players can carry out. The main virtue of the 3-4 is that one can use it in a variety of alignments, and the position one plays in a given alignment can be different than the way the position is listed on a depth chart or in a game program. Ideally, the OLBs in a 3-4 are hybrid DE/LB types who can either be in a hand-down position on the line or in a stand-up position either on the line or in the backfield.

johnlg00 writes:

More to the point, I don't care what the positions are called, and not much about where guys are aligned, I just want defensive PLAYS made with a decisiveness and explosiveness such as we have seen all too rarely in recent years. In that, I expect Herman to make MAJOR contributions this year. In fact, I feel pretty good about all our starting LBs; I just hope they can all stay healthy and there is some quality depth behind them.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to ScoonerTN:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Sorry, Scooner, but helping UK football is about as far as I can imagine from anything I might care about. I'll watch the Final Four, and I can live with it if UK wins, but I can't say I have a rooting interest in any of them.

I didn't watch a second of the MickeyD's game; not much there for a real fan of the game of basketball--run, gun, dunk, repeat; gets kind of boring after awhile. I might watch it again if there are ever any UT signees in it, but I'm not holding my breath.

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