If there's a shocking stat of the summer for Tennessee's defensive backs, it's this: All-American safety Eric Berry only has a couple interceptions.
Don't fret, though. The SEC's career leader in interception return yardage wasn't loafing during voluntary seven-on-seven workouts this offseason. He was busy helping.
"I've only had about two or three picks," Berry said. "Been doing a lot of coaching."
That could prove a lot more valuable come the fall.
With Berry and cornerback Dennis Rogan as the Vols' only returning starters in the secondary and a brand new scheme to learn on defense, there's a lot of tutoring to be done.
Coach: Willie Mack Garza
Lettermen Lost: (3) CB — DeAngelo Willingham, Antonio Gaines; FS — Demetrice Morley
Projected Starters: CB — Dennis Rogan (Jr., 5-10, 185), Brent Vinson (Jr., 6-0, 201). FS — Prentiss Waggner (R-Fr., 6-2, 177) or Stephaun Raines (So., 5-10, 179). SS — Eric Berry (Jr., 5-11, 203)
Watch For: Janzen Jackson. The five-star recruit from Louisiana likely will get the first shot at free safety, a position vacated when Demetrice Morley was dismissed in the spring.
Key Stat: On his seven interceptions last season, Berry averaged 39.3 return yards. And the junior’s two touchdowns tied for third on the team in 2008.
Berry, a preseason All-SEC selection as well as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and Rogan, a former Fulton standout who has played in 25 career games, will need some help from a mix of newcomers and inexperienced players.
Entering the spring, Demetrice Morley figured to start at free safety again this fall, however some off-field issues led to his dismissal before the end of spring drills.
"Me and D-Mo are good friends," Berry said of Morley, who started 20 career games in the secondary. "It's going to be tough not being back there with him. At the same time he would want me to be playing hard or going hard for whoever's out there."
True freshman Janzen Jackson, a five-star recruit the Vols plucked from Louisiana after signing day, is a possible candidate to start at free safety despite being ranked the No. 2 overall cornerback in last year's class. Tennessee also could get help from true freshmen Darren Myles Jr. and Nyshier Oliver opposite Berry at safety.
While UT's newcomers will get the first chance at replacing Morley, the Vols have other options already on campus.
Prentiss Waggner, a 6-foot-2, 177-pound redshirt freshman tops the list of players who impressed Berry during offseason workouts.
"Prentiss Waggner is still here," Berry says. "A big-time guy. A natural ball hawk who can do it all. Cover. Hit. Anything. Janzen Jackson, he's a special player honestly. You're going to have to look out for him coming up soon because he's a true baller."
The Vols need to find another starter at cornerback, too.
Opposite Rogan, the Vols must find a replacement for DeAngelo Willingham, who started his final 19 games after transferring in from junior college. Junior Brent Vinson, one of UT's most athletic players, could be in the running, although he's been plagued at times by inconsistency on and off the field during his time at Tennessee.
Art Evans, who left spring practice listed as a possible starter, likely will factor into UT's plans in the secondary this fall. Evans, a sophomore, had a solid spring practice, while Marsalous Johnson returns for his senior season having started nine career games, including seven as a sophomore in 2007.
Still, there's no doubt that Berry, the reigning SEC defensive player of the year, remains Tennessee's star in the defensive backfield.
UT coach Lane Kiffin says his father, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, has been busy all summer finding new ways to use Berry.
"He (Monte Kiffin) made a statement, 'I don't know how he couldn't be the first pick of the (NFL) draft,' " Lane Kiffin said. "I think that's a pretty powerful statement about Eric.
"He continues to get so excited about using Eric in different ways. He's not had a safety over the years that he's been able to play at nickel."
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.