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- Derek Dooley talks after practice - Aug. 29, 2011
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- Vols football practice - Aug. 29, 2011
Tennessee doesn't have another all-conference safety it can just slide into the lineup.
In fact, the Vols don't have another player the league coaches bestowed with All-SEC credentials last season anywhere on the roster now.
The dismissal of Janzen Jackson from the program certainly was a blow to the resume of its lineup given his standing as the only player named to either of the postseason teams as voted by conference coaches a year ago. But with another season ready to kick off at Neyland Stadium against Montana on Saturday (TV: PPV, 6 p.m.), the Vols don't have time to look back anymore as they move on without Jackson in the secondary.
"Well, we're not as good," UT coach Derek Dooley said after practice Monday. "I'd like to sugarcoat it, but when you lose an all-conference guy you're not as good back there. It moves Prentiss (Waggner) into a role that we didn't have him in, or didn't need him in. So you start getting stressed everywhere. That's just the way it is.
"Our program's better, our team's better, but we're not as good in the secondary."
The Vols still have enough options to do some tinkering at the back of the defense, even after losing another safety following the announcement that freshman Pat Martin has elected to transfer out of the program without ever playing a down.
With or without Martin, UT was going to move Waggner back to safety to fill the void left by Jackson, and it still has sophomore Brent Brewer returning at the other spot following his emergence late last season.
And while there's not much experience behind the starters, there doesn't appear to be much public concern about the backups after junior Rod Wilks and freshman Brian Randolph both moved a bit closer to significant roles with Jackson's departure.
"Those guys have both progressed in different ways," Dooley said. "Brian Randolph is a little bit like (cornerback Justin) Coleman. I think he's going to get better and better over the course of the season. He's just brand new, so he's not playing as fast as you'd like him to because he's thinking. The more he gets it, the better he'll play. He's a really smart, intelligent player and he's a physical player. He's going to be a good player for us.
"Rod's a guy that's been in the program, has gone through a lot of frustration I think from not playing. But he's had a great attitude and has shown a tremendous amount of improvement. We don't bat an eye putting him in the game."
Wilks isn't blinking either with an opportunity to make some sort of impact finally in front of him after three years mainly on the fringe for the Vols.
UT has struggled to find the best way to use Wilks since his redshirt season in 2008, experimenting with him as a receiver as a freshman, eventually settling on defensive back and leaving him with little to show for two seasons aside from work on special teams and a catch against Memphis as a freshman.
And while the Vols aren't planning for a blowout or taking the Grizzlies lightly based on their history of success in the Football Championship Subdivision, Wilks was obviously aware that a critical audition at safety could be coming for him and Randolph this weekend.
"Oh yeah, and we've got to stay focused and we've got to be ready to go in the game at all times," Wilks said. "You never know what's going to happen, and you get tired playing this game. They play 94, 95 reps a game — you can't keep going, you have to take a break some time. I've just got to be focused and ready to go on the field.
"Now I'm just looking forward to playing behind Brewer or behind (Waggner). When I get my chance, just go hard at it."
The list of guys ahead of them has gotten shorter, and that chance for Wilks and Randolph could be coming quickly.