Frosh DBs growing up fast

InsideTennessee covers Vol football like no one else. Check out this story on the huge impact freshmen could have on the Big Orange secondary:

The greatest infusion of new talent for Tennessee’s football team, without question, is in the secondary. Five freshman defensive backs practiced for the first time Friday night, and odds are all five will be playing this fall.

How are they doing? InsideTennessee posed that question to redshirt junior safety Brian Randolph, who provided an inside look at the five newcomers.

Evan Berry (5-feet-11, 199 pounds) is listed at cornerback but could show up just about anywhere.

"He's definitely a dual threat,” Randolph said. “He can play any position in the secondary. He's fast, and he's also got size to him."

Twin brother Elliot Berry (6-feet, 208) has such good size that many observers project him to wind up playing outside linebacker someday.

"He's a little bit bigger,” Randolph said. “Right now, they've got him rotating at nickel and at safety. He's definitely shown us some things out there."

Nickel back has been an ongoing problem spot, with walk-ons filling the role in 2013. RaShaan Gaulden (6-feet-1, 173) could be part of the solution in 2014.

"He's doing well,” Randolph said. “Right now they've got him at nickel, so he's getting some reps out there. He's very fast and has good ball skills."

Todd Kelly Jr. (6-feet, 203) may have the best chance to start among the rookie DBs. He seems to have all of the physical and mental tools to make immediate impact.

"He's very driven,” Randolph said. “He's a driven individual. You can tell he wants to play and be the best he can be. He's always in here trying to watch film and do the extra things."

Cortez McDowell (6-feet-1, 215) looks like a linebacker compared to the other newbies. He brings a physical presence at safety that has impressed his mentor.

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"That's one of my guys right there,” Randolph said, flashing a big grin. “He's pretty much the same as TK (Todd Kelly). He's always watching film, always asking (secondary) coach (Willie Martinez) questions, always trying to come in early and look at film and stuff like that."

In addition to the five freshmen who practiced for the first time Friday night, Tennessee has two freshman DBs who enrolled at mid-term and participated in spring practice, D'Andre Payne and Emmanuel Moseley. Moseley (5-feet-11, 178 pounds) weighed just 165 when he showed up last December but has grown considerably – physically and mentally – since then.

"You can tell he's one of the veterans,” Randolph said. “You ain't got to watch him as much as the other ones. He's always making calls out there. You can tell he's been here."

Tennessee’s secondary play has been mediocre in recent years, partly due to lack of speed. From all accounts that won’t be a problem when the 2014 freshmen are on the field.

"They are definitely fast," Randolph said. "They probably upgrade (team speed) a good amount. They're swarming around out there. You can tell they're quick on their feet. They definitely bring juice to the secondary."

The rookie defensive backs clearly have the talent to contribute immediately. Their position is so demanding mentally, however, that a huge key is whether they can be knowledgeable enough by Aug. 30 to play in the opener. The early signs are encouraging.

"They come in extra; they're very diligent," Randolph said. "They come in after hours. They come in before practice and meet up with the coaches to get some extra drills in."

That’s a plus for Tennessee because no area of the team more desperately needs help from the new arrivals than the secondary.

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