TAMPA, Fla. -- Tennessee linebacker Ellix Wilson has tried
to be patient.
The junior has played in nearly every game of his college career
except for a medical redshirt season but has never started.
"Now coach is giving me a chance,'' he said. "Coming in, coach
always said everyone needs to learn how to play all three
[linebacker] positions so whenever someone goes out you have your
chance to step up. I took heed to what he said and here I am.''
Wilson, who will start in place of prolific tackler Rico McCoy,
is one of a handful of Volunteer players who will fill the shoes of
teammates who were declared academically ineligible for the Outback
Bowl because of grades.
The suspensions are most noticeable on the injury-plagued
Tennessee defense, which lost McCoy at linebacker, tackle Demonte
Bolden and reserve free safety Ricardo Kemp.
Starting linebacker Ryan Karl suffered an elbow injury during
the Southeastern Conference championship, but coach Phillip Fulmer
said Karl will start at his strongside spot while Wilson shifts
inside and All-SEC linebacker Jerod Mayo moves to weakside
linebacker when No. 16 Tennessee (9-4) faces No. 18 Wisconsin (9-3)
"That's our best group,'' Fulmer said. "I was a little
concerned about where Ryan Karl was, but he had really just a great
day and did some tackling full speed and I think we're going to be
The defensive line is a different story. Fulmer will depend on
Dan Williams and J.T. Mapu, who have shared time at right tackle,
and Walter Fisher to make up for Bolden's absence.
Other options include moving a defensive end inside and playing
the nickel package more frequently.
"Brooks has done a good job with
those guys,'' Fulmer said of defensive line coach Dan Brooks. "Beyond that, right now it's a
"Obviously anytime you lose a guy like Lucas it's going to be
difficult, but we have guys who can step up,'' Ainge said.
Wisconsin safety Shane Carter said Taylor's absence doesn't make
him feel any better at trying to stop Tennessee's passing game.
"It's just like any other team, they've got great players
behind him waiting to step up,'' Carter said. "At this level,
The Badgers have done their own shuffle in the backfield to
compensate for injured tailback P.J. Hill, who has been hampered by
a lower leg bruise for the second half of the season.
For Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, the
suspensions mean more than the loss of talent on the football
field. Cutcliffe said it's hard emotionally for players and coaches
to leave others behind.
"These are guys that aren't here that [the players] care about
... and it hurts,'' Cutcliffe said.