Curt Maggitt may be one of the most important players on Tennessee’s defense.

The redshirt junior will make his long-awaited return to the field Sunday against Utah State after missing the entire 2013 season while recovering from off-season surgeries. Injuries have plagued the linebacker even prior to his arrival in Knoxville. As a sophomore, Maggitt played through a turf toe injury and a shoulder stinger that has lingered since high school.

When healthy, Maggitt is one of the most talented players on Tennessee’s defense. Outside of A.J. Johnson, Maggitt is the most seasoned veteran on an otherwise young unit. The thought of a healthy Maggitt lining up alongside Johnson with added experience has Tennessee fans salivating. Following offseason speculation that defensive coordinator John Jancek was considering moving him to defensive end, Maggitt was alongside Johnson at strongside linebacker on the Vols’ Week one depth chart. The duo, along with weakside linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, could create a fearsome unit for opposing SEC offenses, which is extremely necessary with questions on the defensive line.

Tennessee’s linebacking corps plays behind a front four that returns zero starters. Johnson, who’s recorded 100 tackles in each of the past two seasons, is the assumed leader. Maggitt has the potential to make a similar impact if he can make it through an entire season. With a young, inexperienced defensive line, the linebackers will need to pick up the slack. Fortunately for Tennessee, they enter the season with Maggitt in his best condition since his arrival in 2011. If he can stay healthy, Maggitt may be the x-factor that makes Tennessee a formidable SEC defense in 2014.