Tennessee’s precarious depth at cornerback might not be as grave as it appeared on Monday.
UT coach Butch Jones said Tuesday junior Riyahd Jones, a projected started at cornerback, has “a leg injury” and is “still undergoing evaluation.”
Everything seen from Riyahd Jones on Tuesday, though, showed positive signs.
Last seen the day before propped up on crutches, Riyahd Jones tried to ease any concerns on Tuesday on Twitter with a tweet saying “i assure you i havent torn anything or tweaked my knee.”
Later in the day, Riyahd Jones arrived on the field without crutches.
Butch Jones didn’t offer any additional clarity, saying only, “We’ll know more as time progresses but that’s all we’ll say on that.”
Riyahd Jones’ apparent injury immediately riled concern from the Vols’ fanbase. Of all positions, UT can ill-afford any more losses at cornerback. Pickings are so slim that wideout Vincent Dallas shifted to corner on Monday to bolster the team’s options.
There has been an addition to the defensive backfield injury front, though. Walk-on cornerback Michael Williams, who spent last year with UT’s track and field team, arrived at Tuesday’s practice with his right arm in a sling. The redshirt freshman has seen a handful of reps with both the second and first team defenses in the last few days.
“He had a shoulder injury in our scrimmage and he’s progressing,” Butch Jones said. “We anticipate getting him back here in the next couple days.”
Dallas, meanwhile, remained at cornerback for Tuesday’s practice. It’s not foreign territory, as he’s been yo-yoed between wideout and defensive back before.
After working as a reserve receiver as a freshman in 2011, Dallas volunteered to switch to cornerback last summer. He remained there through camp, but switched back to receiver in late August and caught nine passes for 149 yards last season.
Following Tuesday’s practice, Dallas said his move to corner is still considered “experimental” and that he’s “used to sudden change.”
On Monday, UT defensive backs coach Willie Martinez complimented Dallas’ attitude and willingness to fill the team’s needs. Regarding the Georgia native’s play, Martinez said, “He’s got awareness and anytime you play the opposite position, in this case wide receiver and defensive back, there are a lot of similarities and lingo that he hears so he knows how to attack it.”
Martinez added the staff will keep Dallas at cornerback “for a couple days.”
It could be longer. At this point UT needs bodies in the secondary.
Since last season, the Vols lost six letterman at defensive back: Prentiss Waggner (graduation), Marsalis Teague (graduation), Rod Wilks (graduation), Eric Gordon (left program), Daniel Gray (transferred to Utah State) and Deion Bonner (dismissed). Naz Oliver, a seldom-used, injury-plagued defensive back recently left UT to finish his degree closer to his New Jersey home.
Only Byron Moore, Justin Coleman, JaRon Toney, LaDarrell McNeil and Brian Randolph have any discernible college experience. Of that group, just Coleman and Toney are true cornerbacks.
Those two aren’t exactly wily veterans. Coleman has 13 career starts in 24 games played. Toney has four starts in 11 appearances.
Asked Monday about his freshmen corners Cameron Sutton and Malik Foreman, defensive coordinator John Jancek said the chances are “pretty good” that one will start presumably opposite Coleman.
“Malik and Cameron are going to play,” Jancek said. “That’s the reality of it.”