Tennessee: Who replaces A.J. Johnson?

Dillon Bates, the son of former Tennessee safety Bill Bates, could win the starting position at linebacker. (Tennessee Athletics)

Dillon Bates, the son of former Tennessee safety Bill Bates, could win the starting position at linebacker. (Tennessee Athletics)

Every year, programs must replace key players.

This is a team-by-team look at 13 SEC programs (Chip Towers and Seth Emerson have UGA covered) and a key player who must be replaced this season.

Who replaces A.J. Johnson? Johnson was a tackling machine for more than three years, so his suspension in November left a massive hole in the defense.

Freshman Jakob Johnson had to make his first start against Missouri on Nov. 22 and finished the season at the position.

Dillon Bates, the son of former Tennessee safety Bill Bates, could win the starting position.

He missed all but four games last year after tearing his labrum against Georgia and wasn’t available to plug the void.

With Jakob Johnson out with a shoulder injury and early enrollee Darrin Kirkland Jr. (torn pectoral) out this spring, Bates (6-3, 230) and Kenny Bynum saw most of the action at middle linebacker this spring.

“We continue to still be a work in progress at the linebacker position,” coach Butch Jones said earlier this month.


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