Tennessee LB A.J. Johnson
Sal Sunseri's track record as a position coach speaks for itself.
After a successful stint on the staff of the Carolina Panthers, he took over as assistant head coach and linebackers coach at Alabama from 2009-11 before taking the Tennessee defensive coordinator post prior to this season.
During his time in Tuscaloosa, he coached some of the most successful linebackers in recent SEC memory. Rolando McClain, C.J. Mosley, Nico Johnson, Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower—the list reads more like an All-SEC team rather than a position from one roster over a three-year period.
Sunseri thinks two of his linebackers at Tennessee this season—A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt—could be even better than those guys.
"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 told the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel.
Well, hello pressure.
Johnson certainly looked the part during his freshman season. As a freshman in 2011, he started 10 games, tallied 80 tackles, had seven tackles for loss and recovered two fumbled en route to consensus freshman All-American honors.
Not a bad start to his career to say the least, and with Sunseri now calling the shots on the defense, Johnson's stock is sure to rise.
Maggitt was no slouch either during his freshman campaign in 2011, starting eight games and finishing with 56 tackles, eight tackles for loss and one sack.
The praise from Sunseri may be hyperbole, but the foundation is certainly there for these two players to be the next great linebacker tandem in the SEC.
There's a difference between being confident and being conceited. Sunseri knows good linebackers, and has a proven track record of developing them. He set the bar high, and that kind of confidence from your coach should be welcomed by Vol Nation.