"But, as an entity, the linebackers have to control and lead everyone out there. Having me, (Jerod) Mayo and Rico McCoy who have played a lot of SEC ball, I think that makes us the strength of our defense."
Ryan Karl, a 6-0, 215-pound junior from Franklin, started all 13 games at strongside linebacker last season. He suffered a compressed spine when he fell and landed on his tailbone while lifting weights during the summer. He was held out of practice until team doctors deemed him completely better. In his absence, backup Adam Myers-White started Saturday's first preseason scrimmage but did not record a tackle.
Karl should reclaim his first-team job now that he has rejoined practice. Naturally, he's eager to get going again, especially with the Vols facing a top-notch foe like California right off the bat. The prospect of meeting a nationally ranked team on the road in Game 1 has increased the sense of urgency all of Tennessee's players feel this fall.
"I think it definitely does," Karl said. "We know since we beat them pretty bad (35-18) last year that they're going to come out this year and want to get back at us, especially in their home. It's a good thing mentally to have a hard team (in Game 1) rather than to have an easier team."