Jinxed at safety

Tennessee's secondary has encountered yet another tough break - literally this time - at the safety position.

This break appears to be in the back of Prentiss Waggner's left hand. The 6-2, 175-pound junior suffered the injury in Saturday's scrimmage while tackling sophomore receiver Da' Rick Rogers on an end-around. Waggner took part in some practice drills today but was limited by a protective cast on the injured hand.

"It just feels so funny," he said. "I've been holding it up when I run, and I can't get my full range of motion down when I run, so it feels pretty creepy.... I feel sluggish with this on."

The break has not been officially confirmed but, based on the pain and swelling, Vol trainers are expecting Monday X-rays to reveal a fracture in one of the small bones on the back of the hand. If so, Waggner will be limited for the rest of spring practice.

This injury is the latest in a series of setbacks to befall Tennessee at the safety position this year. First, All-SEC free safety Janzen Jackson left school to deal with what head coach Derek Dooley has called a "personal matter." Then 2010 starting strong safety Brent Brewer was suspended indefinitely during offseason workouts.

The uncertainty surrounding Jackson and Brewer led Vol coaches to move Waggner back to safety. He started the first seven games of 2010 at strong safety before moving to cornerback for the last six games. Brewer was reinstated for the start of spring practice but Waggner's injury has the Vols limited at the position again.

Although he played well at safety, Waggner really excelled at corner last fall. He wound up leading the team in fumble recoveries (3), sharing the team lead in interceptions (5), ranking second in passes defended (9) and fifth in total tackles (57).

Being an upbeat sort, Waggner notes that the cast isn't affecting him as much at safety as it would if he were still a cornerback.

"I think it's easier to play safety," he said, "because at corner we play so much man-to-man where you've got to use your (hands in) press technique."

No one would blame Waggner if he elected to sit out the remaining spring practices due to the pain in his left hand but he says he won't consider that option.

"I don't really like being on the sidelines," he said. "Football is my love; that's all I really want to do. If I'm out there, I'm happy, no matter what I'm doing."

Even in a limited capacity, Waggner's presence on the practice field is a plus. With Jackson missing spring ball, there's probably a little more pressure on Waggner to make plays and set a good example for the younger defensive backs.

"Oh, I don't feel that there's a lot on me," he said. "I just feel like I'm a veteran guy back there, so I have to help the young guys however I can. Even if I wasn't out there (as a participant) I'd still be pushing the young guys, coaching 'em up and things like that.

"But I'm happy to be out here, running around, getting my feet wet and having fun."

Given how young Tennessee's secondary is, Waggner may be asked to split time between safety and corner again in 2011. If so, he's ready. He loves both positions.

"At safety, I like communicating on the back end, making all the calls, being the quarterback of the secondary," he said. "At safety, you just chase the cat - run around tackling people and making plays.

"At corner, it's basically one-on-one - athletic ability vs. athletic ability, technique vs. technique. That's exciting to me."

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