SEC: Christian Harris

Coaching 'em up: Tennessee

July, 12, 2011
7/12/11
2:30
PM ET
The coaching spotlight today shifts to Tennessee.

Coach: Peter Sirmon

Position: Linebackers

Experience: He's entering his second season on the Tennessee staff and his first season as a full-time position coach. Sirmon, 34, was a graduate assistant last season working with the Vols' defense. He replaces Chuck Smith on Tennessee's defensive staff. Smith, who coached the Vols' defensive line last season, was not retained by head coach Derek Dooley, prompting Lance Thompson's move from linebackers to defensive line and Sirmon's promotion to linebackers coach. Sirmon spent the 2009 season on the staff at his alma mater, Oregon, and worked under Chip Kelly. In 2008, Sirmon got his coaching start as the linebackers coach at Central Washington. He also coached kickoff coverage at Central Washington.

Of note: Sirmon played for seven seasons in the NFL from 2000-06, all with the Tennessee Titans. He was a starter at linebacker for five of those seasons. ... In college, Sirmon was an All-Pac-10 linebacker at Oregon. He was a four-year starter for the Ducks from 1996-99 and part of 30 wins for the program. ... Sirmon and Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox were teammates at Oregon and played on the same defense. ... The year after Sirmon retired from the NFL in 2007, he worked on pre- and postgame radio and postgame television for the Titans. ... While playing for the Titans, Sirmon gained the reputation as one of the smartest defenders in the league.

His challenge: There are several holes to fill on Tennessee's defense, but none more glaring than at linebacker. In fact, the Vols signed three freshman linebackers in the 2011 class, and all three could end up playing prominent roles this season -- A.J. Johnson, Curt Maggitt and Christian Harris. It didn't help matters that the most productive returnee at linebacker, junior Herman Lathers, fractured his ankle during 7-on-7 workouts in June and is expected to miss multiple games to start the season. Lathers was Tennessee's second-leading tackler a year ago. Junior Greg King has also battled injury problems throughout his career. Sirmon made sure to cross-train his linebackers this spring. Sophomore Greg Propst, who backed up Nick Reveiz in the middle last season, worked both inside and outside. Senior Austin Johnson also worked at different spots. Sirmon said there's likely to be more shuffling in the fall as the Vols attempt to get their three best linebackers on the field. Making it even more difficult on the linebackers is the fact that the Vols aren't exactly loaded at defensive tackle. The hope is that junior college transfer Maurice Couch can come in and have an immediate impact up front, but Tennessee won't have the luxury of running SEC-caliber defensive tackles in and out of the game and helping to keep opposing offensive linemen off the linebackers. Dooley and Sirmon both expect to get the freshmen on the field early. All three are talented and were big gets on the recruiting trail, but it's never ideal in the SEC to have to rely on freshmen.

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