CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- It will be hard replacing the guy that led your team in sacks last season, but the Cavaliers face that challenge in their season opener against No. 12 Tennessee on Saturday. 

Bennett is still recovering from a knee procedure after going down during the team's fall camp scrimmage a few weeks ago. In line to step up in his place are seniors Ben Smiley III and Paul Akere. 

Smiley III has had a quiet career with the Cavaliers, but practice time and additional reps has his coaches confident that he can plug himself right in. 

"I have been talking about Ben and I'll say it again 'Ben you got to make my word good," head coach Tony Elliott said. "I've been talking about your for two years now. But what you see with the additional reps, he's starting to play better with his hands, play better with his eyes, be a little bit more disciplined and not get caught up on the one-on-one battles."

Akere had a solid season in his first year with the Cavaliers in 2022, recording four sacks and 22 total sacks, but it's the intangibles that he provides that have the greatest impact. 

"[Paul] Akere has just been steady," Elliott said. He's a guy that's not going to flash as much as the others ones, but he's going to do his job. He's going to be where he needs to be and give you great depth and great leadership."

I'm praying for [Chico] and I know he's going to be ready whenever it's time to be ready, but the motto around here is next man up," Akere said. "There's no doubt he's one hell of a player, but I know we got guys that can go. Every dog can bark."

In terms of Bennett's return, Elliott said this week that he could back as early as next week's home opener against James Madison.