Defensive backs are a secondary concern for Vols

Secondary has options

University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley talks about the upcoming season during a media luncheon Monday, Aug. 1, 2011 at Neyland Stadium. The Vols' first fall practice is Tuesday and the team opens the season Sept. 3 against Montana.

Photo by Paul Efird

University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley talks about the upcoming season during a media luncheon Monday, Aug. 1, 2011 at Neyland Stadium. The Vols' first fall practice is Tuesday and the team opens the season Sept. 3 against Montana.

Coach Dooley and players discuss the secondary heading into fall camp

The search for depth on the defensive line has included position changes for two players currently holding down starting jobs.

An injury to another projected starter has Tennessee almost completely devoid of experience at linebacker.

The Vols might appear to be lacking in options for their defensive front seven. But as the first practice of fall camp stars today, they know finding options in the secondary won't be a problem.

According to the preseason two-deep the program released Monday, a defensive back named to four national award watch lists and the preseason Coaches All-SEC third team isn't even considered a UT starter. That may be an early indication a deep group of defensive backs could allow the coaching staff to focus on finding one less player to play in front of them.

"Well, about 50 percent of the game is Nickel (with five defensive backs) now with the amount of subs you can play, and half the time you are out there guys are in three-wide (receiver) sets," UT coach Derek Dooley said during his preseason news conference. "So that helps you when you're deep in the secondary. And the question is, 'Can we play Nickel more on regular downs?' I don't know.

"Time is going to tell on a lot of this. It helps having a lot of bodies back there. We don't know if any of them can play, but there's a lot more capable bodies."

The Vols brought in plenty of them to compete with what was already a solid group of returning players, including the talented safety combination of Janzen Jackson and Brent Brewer. And at least for the time being, those two are blocking a starting role for Prentiss Waggner. Waggner, a junior, garnered more offseason attention than anybody on the UT roster after picking off five passes, recovering three fumbles and scoring three touchdowns last season.

The versatile Waggner has split time at both cornerback and safety in the past, and the staff recruited of a handful of possible cover guys to compete with Marsalis Teague, Anthony Anderson and Eric Gordon at corner. Combined with the return of Jackson from personal issues at safety, Waggner's best bet might be to play as a nickelback.

And while that figures to keep him on the field regularly, it doesn't exactly show up in a traditional 4-3 depth chart.

"I don't have any control over those offseason awards," Waggner said. "I think I had a pretty good year last year, and I'm not really concerned about what the depth chart is right now. It always changes before the season starts.

"I don't have a preference (between cornerback and safety), I just love the game of football. No matter where you put me I just try to do my best. I think I just bring a lot of depth to the secondary, and as long as I'm out there having fun and making plays for the defense, I'm cool with that."

With the Vols sorting through those issues up front and at linebacker, they figure to need more of those big plays from Waggner and the rest of the secondary.

UT clearly made improving a defense that finished eighth in the conference in pass defense an emphasis in its most recent recruiting class, and they'll get a look at the haul they landed in February up

close today. Depending on what the Vols wind up seeing in the back end, it might help address some issues elsewhere.

"Throughout all the summer workouts and all the position drills and (defensive back) drills, I just kind of looked back and saw that we had almost 20, 25 guys out there," Waggner said. "I was like, 'Man, this fall is going to be interesting. Lot of competition.'

"Throughout the whole summer we were just pushing each other, getting the young guys and the newcomers, just taking them up under our wing so we can be one of the best secondaries in the SEC."

If the Vols can pull that off, it could easily have a trickle-down effect for the front seven — or six.

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.

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Comments » 10

Huttdawg100 writes:

The DB's went from a weakness to a strength very quickly. That really highlights Dooley's ability to recruit our needs, especially in down years. The guy I've got my eye on is Byron Moore.

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

in response to Huttdawg100:

The DB's went from a weakness to a strength very quickly. That really highlights Dooley's ability to recruit our needs, especially in down years. The guy I've got my eye on is Byron Moore.

Plus, Brian Randolph,Justin Coleman, and Tino Thomas..It will be interesting to see which of the new ones will make the biggest impact..I agree with you because I think it WILL BE Byron Moore..

Smokey is still on the prowl for the DB who can make the most INT's...

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

I almost forgot about Pat Martin..Between all the Frosh and the veterans, I can't keep track all of them.

Smokey is definitely NOT prowling around for more DB's..He says we are good in that area right now...

RockyToptoNeyland writes:

hey whats the story on greg king?

AHoffman writes:

"Defensive backs are a secondary concern for Vols" No pun intended I assume.

lomas98 writes:

Don't forget about Lanier either. At least there are bodies back there.

Smokey_Chow writes:

..... haha.. get it "Defensive Backs" are "Secondary" concern.... ha... ha.... no one?

TitanandVolfan4life writes:

I won't be surprised to see some plays with 6 DB's lined up and CJW using a Safety or 2 up close in a LB position.

With some of our kids in their 2nd year of CJW system I also won't be surprised to see alot more S and CB blitzes to either help plug the holes in the line or to keep the QB worried and frustrated.

LB may be a weakness but a S or 2 that runs fast, hits hard, wraps up and makes solid tackles consistently can make a big difference especially if they can find the holes and get through the line to blitz and hit the QB.

It's now official folks...

IT'S FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!!!!!!!!

VFL...GO BIG ORANGE!!!!!!!!!

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

in response to lomas98:

Don't forget about Lanier either. At least there are bodies back there.

Sheesh!! I forgot about him, too..until now..I think maybe we have named all of our new DB's..

Smokey is on the prowl for plenty of nickel packages..

NeylandWest writes:

Are we still running (or trying to establish) a base 3-3-5 defense? I know Boise St runs a hybrid of this and thought that was the ultimate plan for our defense when CJW was hired.

If that's the case, do we need to worry? Or is KNS just creating hype/article clicks?

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