Tennessee Defense Will Rely Heavily on Linebacker Depth in 2013

Jason HallAnalyst IJuly 30, 2013

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 15: Quinton Dunbar #1 of the Florida Gators tackled by A.J. Johnson #45 and Eric Gordon #24 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the second half of play at Neyland Stadium on September 15, 2012 in Knoxville, Tennessee.    (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
John Sommers II/Getty Images

The Tennessee Volunteers defense was a major factor in the team suffering one of their worst seasons in school history.

Despite a high powered offensive attack, the Vols won just one game during SEC play and managed to look like a Pop Warner squad when matching up against opposing offenses.

One of the lone bright spots for Tennessee defensively was linebacker A.J. Johnson. Johnson led the Vols with 138 total tackles and was the only player to record over 100 tackles for the season.

Despite the team's struggles, Johnson has shined since his arrival in Knoxville. In 2011, he was a consensus freshman All-American and a member of the All-SEC freshman team.

Entering last season with high expectations, he was placed on the Butkus Award watch list and the Preseason All-SEC second team by league media. Johnson finished the 2012 campaign with a nomination to the Coaches' All-SEC second team. 

There is little doubt that Johnson will shine during his junior season. However, the biggest question about the Tennessee linebacking corps is: how much depth do the Vols have at that position?

Curt Maggitt is another linebacker UT fans remain optimistic about. Maggitt played through injuries before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Missouri.

While his status is in question, Maggitt could definitely boost the linebacking corps playing alongside the standout Johnson. Both players were part of the same recruiting class and had Vols fans optimistic that they would dominate offenses alongside one another for years.

However, Maggitt’s time in Knoxville has been plagued with injuries, despite showing flashes of brilliance when healthy. If the two can line up together, the linebacking corps may be a force to reckoned with.

Even with both linebackers starting, the problem of depth still remains. The Vols still don’t truly have a front runner for the third linebacking position. Raiques Crump and Dontavis Sapp are both seniors who have seen limited action.

Should Maggitt not be ready to return on time, both will likely start alongside Johnson. 

John Propst is also a returning senior but has seen much less action. Channing Fugate has seen playing time, but has played fullback during his entire tenure in Knoxville.

The Volunteers linebacking corps definitely has some unanswered questions related to the depth chart. However, they do possess some talent, if they can keep their starting linebackers healthy, and should see a vast improvement in 2013.