Tennessee Football: What Curt Maggitt's Health Means for Vols' Defense

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2014

Oct 20, 2012; Knoxville, TN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Eddie Lacy (42) is tackled by Tennessee Volunteers defensive back Justin Coleman (27) and linebacker Curt Maggitt (56) during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

For the last half of 16 long months, Tennessee Volunteers redshirt junior Curt Maggitt was a powder keg of pent-up emotion.

Bound to the sideline all of 2013 while agonizing about whether to return to the field from a knee injury that left him less than 100 percent, Maggitt bounced around in street clothes. He hopped into huddles and barked out instruction while dreaming of destruction.

Now that he is fully recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in November 2012 against Missouri, Maggitt has been a force for a rebuilding UT defense this spring.

The 6'3", 244-pound Florida native is still lining up at his old outside linebacker spot, but according to Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Patrick Brown, he is helping a young UT defensive line establish an improving pass rush by also lining up some at end.

UT coach Butch Jones has referred to Maggitt as the team's "heart and soul" multiple times recently, and he told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required) how important it is that Maggitt be Maggitt again.

It makes a big difference (to have him back). He's our leader. He brings versatility to our defense in terms of being able to put him in a 3-point stance and rush the passer, or put him in the second level of our defense at the linebacker position. He has great football knowledge and instincts, but I think the versatility that be brings to our whole defensive package and being able to move him around (is big). He’s very explosive, so to be able to get him back on the field is a big benefit for us.

A player as versatile as Maggitt could emerge as a star in a defense desperately needing them. ESPN's Chris Low tabbed Maggitt in his article discussing the SEC's next wave of star players.

That is high praise for a player who hasn't suited up in a long time.

"You might have forgotten about Maggitt after he missed last season because of injuries," Low wrote, "but he's healthy again and will be used in several different roles for the Vols."

Jones left the decision on whether or not to redshirt last season to the player, and a week into spring drills, it's looking like it was the right choice. Now, the Vols have his leadership on the field, and the production is there to match.

Considering coordinator John Jancek's unit lost six of its starting front seven, getting a veteran of Maggitt's ilk to return at full strength is a coup. It helps when a coach has players like him and senior middle linebacker A.J. Johnson to build around.

Even with all the defensive losses, Tennessee has the potential to be better on defense in 2014, even if it's off to a predictably slow start this spring.

Speed was the Vols' biggest enemy during a 5-7 first year under Jones. It also happens to be Maggitt's biggest asset.

With the potential to be an elite edge-rusher, Maggitt can be utilized in various blitz packages, and with UT having the luxury of him and sophomore defensive end Corey Vereen on the field, it could benefit a dormant pass rush.

Maggitt's play at end already has impressed former UT quarterback Erik Ainge.

Tennessee finished dead last in the SEC in sacks in each of the past two seasons. It's no coincidence that drought coincides with Maggitt being hobbled.

Even before he tore his ACL against Mizzou, Maggitt spent his sophomore season in 2012 battling a turf toe injury that slowed him significantly.

The only season he was healthy, Maggitt hardly knew what he was doing and still racked up third-team freshman All-America honors. That season, he finished with 56 total tackles, including 5.5 for a loss and a forced fumble.

It's been a long road back to get there again.

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 31:  Curt Maggitt #56 of the Tennessee Volunteers strips the ball from Mike Glennon #8 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Georgia Dome on August 31, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Now, it's all systems go for Maggitt, who has months to shake off the rust before he starts terrorizing SEC offenses that will be breaking in new quarterbacks.

That fact isn't lost on the Vols. They may be rebuilding on defense, but there are a lot of young signal-callers and offensive linemen who are going to have to account for Maggitt—wherever he lines up.

"Just let me hit the quarterback and I'm good," he told reporters with a smile.

Finally, he'll get that opportunity again. And Maggitt's health means one less worry for a Tennessee defense full of them.


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