Tennessee football position preview: Linebackers will be helped by return of Curt Maggitt, A.J. Johnson

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The seventh in a series of position-by-position reviews of the Tennessee football team with an eye toward the start of spring practice in March.

A.J. Johnson talks to reporters after the Kentucky game (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee A.J. Johnson‘s decision to return for his senior season in 2014 will give Tennessee two experienced leaders in the middle of the defense.

Curt Maggitt is back after missing all of 2013 as he recovered from ACL surgery.

Barring a huge surprise, Johnson and Maggitt will start. About two-thirds of the time, when UT is in nickel, there won’t be any need for a third linebacker. When the Vols are in a 4-3 set, there will be plenty of options to fill out the rotation.

Dontavis Sapp and converted safety Brent Brewer are the biggest losses from 2013. Four other longtime reserves are also moving on.

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If all goes as planned, the Vols will have a huge influx of new faces this year. There are seven verbal commitments listed as linebackers, although one or two might eventually landed at other positions.

Only a couple of the newcomers will be needed in the linebacker rotation, although the rest could see action on special teams.

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Dillon Bates is the most highly rated of the group. Jakob Johnson, a native of Germany, might be the most intriguing to watch.

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Among the returning players, Jalen Reeves-Maybin might be first in line to compete for the third linebacker spot. He started his career as a safety, much like Brewer. 

Kenny Bynum has a bigger body, so he might have to get his snaps in relief of Johnson or Maggitt. As a third-year player facing a fresh crop of competition, Bynum must have a good spring and August camp.

A note on this series: As National Signing Day approaches, we’ll review each of Tennessee’s positions with an eye toward spring football in 2014. I’ll update the spreadsheets as players commit, sign, enroll or leave. Click on the links for previews of the offensive linerunning backsreceiversquarterbackstight ends and the defensive line.

A note on the statistics: The snap count shown in the first graphic includes only offensive snaps. It does not count special teams. The statistics are unofficial and come from our snap-by-snap database. “YPP” is yards per play, or simply the number of yards Tennessee gained while the player was on the field, divided by the player’s total snaps. “Adjusted YPP” adjusts the average for various factors, including game, situation, formation, down, distance and position. “Impact factor” is the degree to which a player’s adjusted YPP outperformed the average. A factor of 100 is average; above that is better, lower is worse. You should view Adjusted YPP and Impact Factor as “interesting” stats and not necessarily relevant ones. Someone who plays every snap will, by definition, have an Impact Factor of 100. On the other end, the small sample size of many reserves means just one or two plays can significantly shift their score.