KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee middle linebacker Nick Reveiz was having a hard time watching his teammates practice their new defense as he waited to be cleared for full-contact practice again.
The junior promised everyone he’d be back for spring practice, even though the torn knee ligament injury he suffered Sept. 26 usually takes longer to heal.
Turns out, Reveiz was right and started full-contact drills last week.
“I kept telling everybody I’d be back for spring practice,” he said. “I don’t know if they believed me, but I believed myself. They just kind of let me loose a little bit. It was awesome. I can’t even explain how much fun it was to be back out there.”
The Volunteers’ linebackers are finally getting some good news after going through the 2009 season as the most banged-up, injury-prone unit on the field. After losing Reveiz, the Vols lost his replacement, junior Savion Frazier, to the same kind of injury on Oct. 31, and other linebackers suffered more minor injuries.
Sophomore Austin Johnson has spent the spring transitioning from fullback to middle linebacker, where he’s led the defense in tackling as a starter in both spring scrimmages.
Johnson had eight tackles, two stops for a loss, a sack and an interception in the first scrimmage and seven tackles in the second, including one for a loss.
Playing on the other side of the ball isn’t a foreign concept for the Hickory, N.C., native. He also played linebacker in high school and was recruited by several colleges as a defensive player.
“I feel a lot like a linebacker again. I’m loving it,” Johnson said. “You never quite know how it’s going to go until you get out there and start doing it, but it’s going really good right now.”
Johnson and Reveiz are both working to wrap their minds around Tennessee’s new defense under coach Derek Dooley and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. For Reveiz there’s more of a challenge as he learns to trust his body again.
While he’s allowed to hit and tackle again, Reveiz is being limited by coaches in scrimmages and some drills so he doesn’t aggravate his injury. Even the Farragut, Tenn., native admits he’s hesitated on a few tackles.
“That’s something that’s just going to take time, and that’s why I need this now, instead of in fall camp,” Reveiz said.
Second-team All-Southeastern Conference linebacker Rico McCoy has moved on, but linebackers coach Lance Thompson said a number of other players are showing improvement in the spring drills.
Junior LaMarcus Thompson, who started all season at strongside linebacker, and Herman Lathers, who replaced Frazier after his injury, have been consistent while backups Daryl Vereen and Shane Reveiz have shown promise.
There’s a number of guys that were in backup roles last year that have done some good things,” Thompson said.