The Secondary: Quality and Experience
There is a new flavor in the secondary this season, with among other things the arrival of new cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley who was a graduate assistant under then linebackers coach Sal Sunseri at Alabama, and Josh Conklin who was a defensive coordinator at The Citadel. Also, the new 3-4 defensive philosophy being instilled by Sunseri will bring with it a more aggressive feel in the secondary compared with the bend-but-don’t-break defense of the last couple of seasons. The DBs will be called on to blitz more with the safeties coming further toward the line as well as to jam receivers at the line more often and more aggressively.
Almost everybody from last season’s secondary returns. That squad was better statistically than in reality. The Vols ranked 12th in the nation (178 yds per game) against the pass (remarkably only 6th in the SEC), but part of that can be attributed to playing run juggernauts that relentlessly pounded the pigskin against the overmatched Vols defense. There was some significant improvement overall in how the defense performed, and the question is how much can that carry over into 2012.
At cornerback, the Vols are three-deep featuring seniors Prentiss Waggner (#23) and Marsalis Teague (#10), and sophomore Justin Coleman (#27). All are battle tested. Sophomores Michael Williams (#2) and Tyler Coombes (#19) will likely see more than a snap or two. Junior Eric Gordon (#24) will be slotted into the nickelback position along with former RB Jaron Toney (#33).
This position starts with sophomore Brian Randolph (#37) who was All-SEC last season. Junior Byron Moore (#3) has arrived via transfer from a community college in California. Junior Brent Brewer (#17) may be able to come back from injury last season during which he played LB and safety. Senior Rod Wilks (#22) may see more than a few snaps.
Whether or not they play safety or at corner, freshmen Tino Thomas (#31) and Geraldo Orta (#26) may be the future. Other youngsters joining the squad are freshmen Daniel Gray (#9), Deion Bonner (#28), and LaDarrell McNeil (#33), who is a recruiting prize out of Dallas – considered one of the nation’s top high school safeties – where he had his eyes on Oklahoma State and other schools until his visit to Knoxville. Gray is of particular note because of his speed, but he’s from southern Florida so we would expect nothing less. Other roster entries are senior Corey Alexander (#7), junior Naz Oliver (#13), and sophomores Max Arnold (#30), Vincent Dallas (#6), and Tyrin Fairman (#15).
[UPDATE: Vincent Dallas was move to wide receiver just before the start of the season due to injuries there as well as the departure of Da’Rick Rogers.]
The Last Word
Tennessee’s secondary should be much improved over last season’s lineup. Recruiting in this department was successful, and with a new defensive coordinator and two new position coaches, Vol fans should look for more of a resemblance to very active secondaries of years past.