Tennessee Football: Previewing the secondary

A year ago the Tennessee football team’s secondary was responsible for 14 interceptions, four of which were returned for touchdowns, and finished 58th in NCAA pass efficiency defense.

Luckily for Tennessee in 2014, unlike the defensive line, the secondary won’t have to replace a single starter for this season. That’s not to say they won’t want to, though.

Butch Jones and his staff brought in an impressive haul of a recruiting class in just his second season. Included in the class are a total of eight defensive backs. Most notable of the eight freshmen defensive backs are the Berry twins (Elliot and Evan), Todd Kelly Jr., and D’Andre Payne.

While these freshmen may not earn starting positions right away, the Vols still have plenty of options in the secondary this season.

Tennessee’s projected starters will probably be Cam Sutton, who had an impressive freshman season gaining All-SEC Freshmen team honors, and Justin Coleman at cornerback. In the nickel package is where the Vols could have their first freshman sighting as there have already been talks of working Evan Berry in the nickel slot.

The starters at safety is where things could get a little unpredictable. As of now, the positions are Brian Randolph’s and LaDarrel McNeil’s to lose. However, with fall camp looming and upcoming freshmen Kelly Jr. and Elliot Berry looking to make good first impressions on the coaching staff, even if not named initial starters both could see a substantial amount of playing time throughout the season.

Other defensive backs that are expected to see meaningful playing time are senior Riyahd Jones, and sophomores Devaun Swafford and Malik Foreman. Jones was plagued with injury in 2013 and was limited until near the end of the season. Swafford, however, was a freshman walk-on who made the most of his opportunity and earned a scholarship for the 2014 season.  Foreman had a silent season last year with 10 tackles (one for a loss) and an interception in the 2013 season opener, but is still expected to be a solid part of the Vols’ defense in 2014.

Tennessee will have several options in the secondary, and with only two seniors on the roster, they’ll likely be set in the secondary through 2016 as the talent recruited a season ago continues to grow and establish themselves in the program.

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