Cavalry's coming

Derek Dooley was not yet born when the old serial westerns were the Saturday afternoon staple of America's movie theaters. Still, he knows what to do in times of peril: Call on the cavalry.

With Tennessee's secondary in dire need of help last winter, the head coach signed eight defensive backs to Vol scholarships. Then - proving he knows military history, as well as football - he began referring to the reinforcements as "the cavalry."

One member of the cavalry already showed up for duty. Mid-term enrollee Justin Coleman of Brunswick, Ga., was so impressive that he finished spring practice bracketed first-team with senior Anthony Anderson at right cornerback.

The rest of the cavalry is due to arrive when the first session of summer school begins in early June. This group includes junior college transfers Izauea Lanier (East Mississippi) and Byron Moore (Harbor City, Calif.), along with high schoolers Eddrick Loften (Irving, Texas), Pat Martin (Greenville, S.C.), Geraldo Orta (Valdosta, Ga.), Brian Randolph (Marietta, Ga.) and Tino Thomas (Memphis).

Dooley's decision to sign eight DBs in one class is looking pretty shrewd these days. All-SEC free safety Janzen Jackson has dropped out of school and may not be back in time for the 2011 season. Two other 2010 starters - strong safety Brent Brewer and cornerback Art Evans - are coming off disciplinary suspensions. The other starter, Prentiss Waggner, was limited the last week of spring practice by a cast protecting an apparent fracture in his left hand.

Through it all, however, Dooley believes Tennessee's defensive backs made progress during the spring.

"I think every one of them has improved individually; that's all I can ask for," he said. "They've had a great attitude, a great work ethic. We've been pushing 'em really hard, and they've responded. That's all I can ask 'em to do. Now it's time to let the new guys come in and see where the competition takes us."

No one is more eager to see "the new guys" than secondary coach Terry Joseph.

"Obviously, June 1, 2 and 3 are going to be big days because a few more people will get added into the fray," he said. "In talking to those guys every day, they're studying their playbooks, they're watching film. They're chomping at the bit to get here because they know everything that happens in the summer and training camp is going to really affect what happens (in Game 1) against Montana. Those guys are excited, and the guys here are excited. As a coach, I couldn't be happier."

Tennessee's veteran defensive backs are aware that an infusion of young talent is on the way, and they're determined not to surrender their jobs to the newcomers. That should make for fierce competition in August.

"When something becomes real, things become a little more urgent," Joseph said. "One thing about competition: The coach usually doesn't have to raise his voice because the next guy is just as adequate as you to do the job, so you might never get a chance."

As a former pro baseball player, Joseph relishes the story of ex-New York Yankee Wally Pipp, who took a day off due to a headache in 1925 and lost his job to Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig, who started the next 2,130 games at first base for the Yankees.

"My players are probably too young to know about Wally Pipp," Joseph said, "but sometimes it happens, and you never get that chance again. There's going to be a sense of urgency for the guys that are here and the guys that are coming in because I'm not able to be out there in the summer, so it's going to be like a self-improvement time."

How many freshmen can improve enough this summer to challenge for playing time this fall remains to be seen, of course, but those vying for cornerback jobs face better odds than those battling for playing time at the safety spots.

"I think corner is definitely the easier of the two for a young guy to learn," Joseph said. "The mental workload is a lot less. At corner, people inside of you are making decisions and relaying them to you.

"At safety, you've got to be a quarterback. You make decisions and give them to everybody else, so your room for error is not a lot. You can affect four or five other guys, and it can result in a big play."

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