Vols seek breakout from crowded defensive backfield

Terry Joseph: 'Competition makes us all better'

Tennessee defensive back Prentiss Waggner (23), left, and Rod Wilks, right, collide during practice at Neyland Stadium Saturday, April 2, 2011.

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee defensive back Prentiss Waggner (23), left, and Rod Wilks, right, collide during practice at Neyland Stadium Saturday, April 2, 2011.

Terry Joseph didn’t shield his players’ eyes on National Signing Day. He couldn’t if he tried, not with the way his players surf the Web and keep up with the latest Tennessee recruiting news.

Instead, UT’s secondary coach has had his defensive backs embrace what happened when the Vols wrapped up their 2011 signing class, when seven of the 27 signees announced that day had “DB” etched next to their name. Another, Eddrick Lofton, was added one day later, giving the Vols a potential of eight new faces in a secondary that graduated just one player — safety Tyler Wolf — from last season.

Only one of the eight — Justin Coleman — is currently with the Vols, who will move past the halfway point of their spring practice schedule with their eighth of 15 set for Tuesday afternoon. The other incoming freshmen are still at home, still in school, still hundreds of miles away from trying to take away their future teammates’ jobs on the UT practice fields.

“In the business world, every successful company has competition. Competition makes us all better,” Joseph said. “The guys who are here … they know that we’ve got guys coming, but also they know they’re getting reps right now while those guys are not getting reps.”

All indications from the first seven practices have shown that the current UT defensive backs are making the most of their opportunities.

Coach Derek Dooley was quick to criticize the passing game for its overall inefficiency after Saturday’s scrimmage, but that didn’t prevent members of the UT secondary from coming away with a few smiles on their faces, as they picked off two passes, ran one back for a touchdown and just made life difficult for one of the SEC’s most promising receiving corps.

“These guys are out here working every day,” senior linebacker Austin Johnson said. “They’re pushing each other and making big plays. As they keep doing that, their jobs are going to be locked up.”

Before spring practice even started, Dooley met exclusively with the defensive backs and “spoke frankly” about the incoming group of players, which includes two junior college transfers — Byron Moore and Izauea Lanier — whom recruiting analysts consider “SEC-ready.”

“Their objective is not to come in and sit on the bench, I can assure you that,” Dooley said. “This spring is very important for all these guys in the secondary to show that they can be dependable, every-down players in this league. It’s a great opportunity for them.”

A number of UT defensive backs were every-down players last season. They just weren’t always dependable.

Cornerbacks Eric Gordon and Marsalis Teague went through their own respective growing pains in the line of duty. Gordon was a redshirt freshman and a starter by the season opener. Teague was a wide receiver at this time last year before he was moved to defense one month before the start of the season.

He finished the year as a starter and is in the mix to do the same at the beginning of 2011.

“I’m honed in on my defensive back drills,” Teague said. “We come up here and we do them as a unit so we’re all trying to make each other get better. That’s how we all compete amongst each other, but in a friendly way to make each other better.”

Safety Brent Brewer, a 22-year-old former baseball player who took over at safety midway through last season, has shown no signs of rust from a five-week suspension that prevented him from working out with the team during the offseason. Brewer, who was arrested in February on domestic abuse charges and has since had the charges reduced to “offensive touching,” has received rave reviews from his coaches and teammates throughout the spring. He led the team with six tackles and an interception in Saturday’s scrimmage.

“If anybody can stay away from that amount of time and come back and play, he’s probably one of the guys that can do it,” Joseph said. “He’s going to get better and better, too.”

Reserves such as cornerback Anthony Anderson and safety Dontavis Sapp and former starter Art Evans, who was suspended for the second half of last season, have also received praise through the first seven practices. Sapp has been a popular name among his teammates and Anderson, a fifth-year senior, returned an interception 81 yards for a touchdown Saturday.

Holding it all together has been Prentiss Waggner, a junior Joseph described as a “Band-Aid” because of his ability to “patch things up” and play wherever he’s needed. Right now, it’s at safety, as Janzen Jackson remains away from the team because of personal reasons.

Waggner could very well be back at cornerback in the fall, a position he thrived at last season on his way to all-SEC second team honors. If he is, he’ll be joined by a slew of talented freshmen who will be after his job.

“Every year I’m pretty motivated,” Waggner said. “Even if we would have signed one or two corners, I know this spring is going to be a competition with guys that we have now.”

Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble

© 2011 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 14

VOLliven2it writes:

We will need a staunch effort by the defense this fall. I hope we get all the pieces in place to get it done. Also, I hope the offense picks things up too. GO BIG ORANGE! It is so good to be getting football news even if it exposes our growing edges.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

This secondary gave up career days to Jones and AJ Green..Outside of Jackson and Waggner the rest were average at best..Give Dooley credit for signing some good DB's for 2011..Myles and Randolph have much potential and our JUCO's will be up to speed quickly!!!Look for Teague and Brewer to fall on the depth chart come November..This article is pretty incomplete!!How hard is it to list the DB's playing spring ball!!!!There is NO replacement for Janzen;what a great future he would have!!!

cage952 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

This secondary gave up career days to Jones and AJ Green..Outside of Jackson and Waggner the rest were average at best..Give Dooley credit for signing some good DB's for 2011..Myles and Randolph have much potential and our JUCO's will be up to speed quickly!!!Look for Teague and Brewer to fall on the depth chart come November..This article is pretty incomplete!!How hard is it to list the DB's playing spring ball!!!!There is NO replacement for Janzen;what a great future he would have!!!

considering the fact that teague was a wideout until right before the season started, and then managed to start on defense, i thought he was okay last season. eric gordon came on late in the year, and brewer looks to be pretty good. i do agree that jackson and waggner were the best but everyone else wasn't terrible

VolGrad writes:

in response to delta960608charlie:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

This is what happens when we forget to take out the trash. The darn varmits start crawling into the house. Anybody got a broom?

GBO!

RngldVol writes:

Most people think that smell in Florida is sulfur but the truth is it is fans like the idiot above. I am a fan of football. SEC football. It is true I don't like Florida or Alabama but I don't go on their sites just to show my ignorance in the form of a lack of education. We are still rebuilding but at least we are on our way up and not down.

mountainbrook writes:

in response to delta960608charlie:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I hear Brantley is hoping to beat his fumbling record again this year.

mahabrando writes:

Has Tyler Bray not put on any weight?! I saw a pic of him and Simms and it looks like Simms has but Bray still looks like a bean pole God bless him, heh.

Docrok writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

This secondary gave up career days to Jones and AJ Green..Outside of Jackson and Waggner the rest were average at best..Give Dooley credit for signing some good DB's for 2011..Myles and Randolph have much potential and our JUCO's will be up to speed quickly!!!Look for Teague and Brewer to fall on the depth chart come November..This article is pretty incomplete!!How hard is it to list the DB's playing spring ball!!!!There is NO replacement for Janzen;what a great future he would have!!!

Contrary to what you think I wouldn't expect Brewer to lose his starting job! I would expect he will likely be an All SEC team player next year. Brewer came in after being away from football for 4 years and earned a starting position. Yes in the games he played he was out of position a time or two but he made a difference in each of those games as well. Now Teague and Gordon may very well have trouble by the end of the season merely based on the fact that they are a little short. Which would make it tough to guard an average 6'3 receiver much less, such talented wide-outs as Green and Jones. Thankfully they are gone and the only receiver TN will see that good will be Alshon Jeffrey.

PattheFlaVol writes:

what is the deal on J.Jackson??

SEAL_9821 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

This secondary gave up career days to Jones and AJ Green..Outside of Jackson and Waggner the rest were average at best..Give Dooley credit for signing some good DB's for 2011..Myles and Randolph have much potential and our JUCO's will be up to speed quickly!!!Look for Teague and Brewer to fall on the depth chart come November..This article is pretty incomplete!!How hard is it to list the DB's playing spring ball!!!!There is NO replacement for Janzen;what a great future he would have!!!

Brent Brewer is gonna be a stud, mark it down.

trubleoj#657755 writes:

If we get a good pass rush we should have a pretty solid secondary. I don't care how many "Revis Islands" you have, without a pass rush DB's will get smoked.

FarmerVol writes:

Yep Brewer and the 2 JUCO men will be there. Waggner maybe Anderson will prob be the 4th. Jackson won't be there cause he will still be in LA. I hope not, but that's life. Teague needs to go to receiver and Gordon, Miles, Randolph and Anderson will be in nickel and dime paks and Special Teams work. IMHO GBO

volstokke writes:

I think Brewer will be a nice surprise this year just like last. The guy will continue to get back into the football state of mind. Four years is a long time away. Hopefully Janzen comes back He is the best all around player on the team. I'm worried he will not be back and declare for the draft the following January. Teauge is an incredible athlete he can become a very solid player this year just based on athletic ability alone. Go Vols!

GONAVY writes:

This is my feeling at this point for UT football: most of what I read from the KNS staff reminds me of "Bagdad Bob". You know, "the infidels are fleeing" type of writing. UT football is really bad. That being said, I really like Dooley. I think this young man can make a difference, only if the fan base/boosters give him a chance. UT will not win 10 games next season...probably 7. 2012 doesn't look much brighter. It will take time to re-position UT football- plus don't think the other schools will sit back and yawn. UT has a good coach- give him time.

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