Slade's brigade has big job

The fact that Tennessee's first three opponents -- Fresno State, Marshall and Florida -- are teams that throw the football exceptionally well -- has not escaped the notice of Vol secondary coach Larry Slade.

And Slade is making sure it doesn't escape the notice of his defensive backs, either.

''There's a sense of urgency right now to get some young guys ready to play,'' Slade said following Friday's morning workout. ''Fresno is outstanding. When you talk about Marshall and Florida, I don't even want to hear about those guys. It's all about Fresno. They have one of the best receivers in the country in the Berrian kid (preseason All-American Bruce Berrian). They're outstanding, so there's definitely a sense of urgency to get ready for them.''

One of the bright spots of UT's preseason drills has been the work of junior college transfer Brandon Johnson. He is unlikely to be a starting cornerback by the opener, but he's almost certain to get extensive playing time as a backup.

''Brandon is coming,'' Slade said. ''Like a typical newcomer, he's learning a lot. He makes a mistake now and then but he's getting better. We're trying to get him ready to be like Julian Battle -- a guy who can play corner AND safety. He's doing a good job.''

One of the most intriguing prospects in the Vol secondary is Jonathan Wade, a world-class sprinter who is splitting time between receiver and cornerback. Slade likes what he has seen thus far.

''Jonathan looks good,'' the Vol aide said. ''Obviously, from a fundamental standpoint, he has a ways to go. He's not over there with us that much but he has the burst and the good hips. He's going to be an outstanding DB.''

While Johnson, Wade and freshmen Roshaun Fellows and Jarod Parrish continue to improve, Jason Allen and Antwan Stewart continue their scrap for the first-team cornerback berth opposite Jabari Greer. Stewart was co-winner of the Most Improved Defensive Player award last spring but Allen has overtaken him in early preseason drills.

''Jason has stepped it up; he's having an outstanding camp,'' Slade said. ''If we played a game today, it'd probably be Jason starting. Jason is another one of those guys that's playing two positions. He's playing corner and doing an outstanding job at safety.''

Allen made one of the most impressive defensive plays of the preseason when, in a press-coverage drill, he drove 6-2, 205-pound freshman receiver Jason Swain out of bounds as Swain attempted to run his pass route.

''Jason's physical as heck,'' Slade said, smiling at the recollection. ''He's becoming a ballplayer.''

With an opening foe like Fresno, Slade stops short of saying he's ''comfortable'' with the secondary outlook. Overall, though, he seems to feel OK with the progress his troops have made to date.

''You never feel comfortable, knowing what we're facing in Fresno,'' he said. ''We're getting there but we've still got a lot of work to do.''

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