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2017 Tennessee Positional Preview: Linebacker

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A position of weakness in 2016 could be a position of strength in 2017.

NCAA Football: Tennessee Volunteers football practice Calvin Mattheis-USA TODAY Sports

Another area of weakness for Tennessee last year was linebacker depth. The Vols were hit hard on the injury front at this position, just like defensive tackle. Jalen Reeves-Maybin’s injury forced Bob Shoop to mix things up early on. That may turn out to be a benefit this year.

Cortez McDowell, Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Colton Jumper were all bumped up the depth chart as a result. Those three should see the most time once again this year.

Kirkland and McDowell are the focal points here in Bob Shoop’s base 4-2-5 attack. McDowell is in his final year of eligibility, while Kirkland is entering his junior season. Kirkland was one of the casualties last season, suffering a high ankle sprain against Virginia Tech. Kirkland ended up only making six starts in 2016. McDowell appeared in 12 games, but only started four of them. Colton Jumper started seven games, appearing in 13 total.

Bob Shoop has to be excited about all the returning talent and experience coming back to his linebacking room. It doesn’t end at the top, either.

Senior Elliott Berry and junior Dillon Bates have underachieved in their time in Knoxville, but both will provide depth behind those top three that I’ve already mentioned. Redshirt sophomore Quart’e Sapp will do the same.

Shanon Reid and Will Ignont are two talented freshmen that will provide a little more depth for the Vols. Reid was a three star and Ignont was a four star, according to 247 Sports. Neither should have to play a prominent role this year, but as we saw last season — your number could be called at any moment. It’s going to be fun to watch these two adapt and get ready to see more time in 2018.

I’m much more confident in the linebackers this year as opposed to last year. I think the overall depth is better, along with some much needed added experience. We can’t forget that last season was a transitional year to a new scheme. The defense lost their leader last year in Jalen Reeves-Maybin. This time around, you would at least think that everyone is a little more comfortable with the defense — they just have to keep McDowell and Kirkland healthy.