KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee will have a defensive backfield with plenty of depth this season.
Leaders Cameron Sutton and Malik Foreman are gone, but the defensive backfield unit is deep and should be much improved under second-year defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.
Part of the process of rebuilding Tennessee with quality depth is to mesh all of the players that have been in the program and allow them to compete for positioning.
“We need to get guys experience,” Shoop said. “It’s not just players one through 11, but 12 through 22 and 23 through 33.”
Shoop has given some of his thoughts on players throughout fall training camp.
“Justin (Martin) is our most improved guy in the spring, Shaq (Wiggins) brings a veteran presence and Emmanuel (Moseley) is as much of a leader as we have in the group right there. As for the three freshman corners, they show the skill set and the drive and the want to be really good. I’m very, very pleased with all of those guys.”
Wiggins is a graduate transfer from Louisville who played his freshman 2013 season at Georgia. He brings a presence to the team; Shoop views him as a “talented player” who needs “to continue to do the things that are synonymous with Tennessee football and our culture.”
“We’re glad Shaq is here,” Shoop said. “He’s a veteran and obviously he’s played in big games at Georgia and Louisville. He’s coming off an injury. I haven’t thrown him in there and anointed him the next Darrelle Revis or anything like that, but we’ve put him in a position where he’s learning how we operate and how Charlton (Warren) wants things.”
Warren, Tennessee’s first-year defensive backs coach, has been brought in by head coach Butch Jones and he is looking for “ball-hawks.”
Warren has also described the type of play he wants in practice.
“And if you make a mistake, I guess I want you to make it going 100 miles an hour. I don’t want the guys to hesitate. I don’t want the guys to throw their hands in the air and say, ‘Coach, I don’t get it.’ I want you to figure it out on the run. When in doubt, run fast and we’ll figure it out from there.”
Senior Todd Kelly Jr. has been in the program throughout times where there has not been enough depth. Now, Kelly Jr. sees the benefits of healthy competition making everyone in the unit better.
“I think competition is all across the board at every position,” he said. “Whatever position you play, you have to bring your A game every day. If you don’t, you see that other guys can play, and you realize that you need to step your game up.
“It also makes each and every one of us better. For example, we have a bunch of good safeties, and we push each other every day, whether that be who had the most pass breakups, biggest hit or most interceptions. At the end of the day, whoever is out there on the field is going to play Tennessee football and play for each other. I know that they have my back, and I have theirs as well.”
A starting lineup is still far from being determined.
“There are no spots right now,” Warren said. “Everyone is competing for a job. It doesn’t matter if you have played here for three years or three days, every practice matters. When we come to practice, the film of this fall camp will determine who will walk out with a one, two, and three, and that will be very fluid all throughout fall camp.”