Closing ground

Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer recently noted that the Vol defense "closed a lot of ground" during spring practice. That was an uncanny choice of words.

Three of UT's best ground-closers are fleet-footed young linebackers Ellix Wilson, Adam Myers-White and Rico McCoy. Two of the three – Wilson and Myers-White – began their college careers as safeties. All three have the speed to close ground on opposing ball-carriers and run stride for stride with most opposing pass receivers.

Wilson, Myers-White and McCoy are three key reasons Fulmer hasn't spent much time bemoaning the departure of 2005 starting linebackers Kevin Simon, Omar Gaither and Jason Mitchell. Wilson, Myers-White and McCoy may lack the experience of last season's trio but, based on spring drills, they have every bit as much talent as their Vol predecessors.

"We can't possibly be as experienced as we were last year in the linebacker corps," Fulmer conceded, "but Ellix Wilson, Adam Myers-White, Rico McCoy and those guys played really well and with a great attitude."

McCoy was particularly impressive in the Orange & White Game, recording a game-high six solo tackles and one assist. Myers-White chipped in four solos and three assists, while Wilson contributed two solos and four assists.

"Rico McCoy's a heck of a football player," Fulmer said. "He would've played a lot last year had he not been injured."

Quality linebacking is crucial to Tennessee's defensive scheme, so the development of the young ‘backers during spring practice was very encouraging. Fulmer also was pleased with the progress he noted among the defensive linemen and the defensive backs. Despite heavy graduation losses, UT appears likely to field another strong stop unit in 2006.

"Defensively," Fulmer noted, "we had a really good spring."

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