Another week, another lineup change in Vols secondary

Continuity in the Tennessee defensive backfield has not been easy to come by this season. Learn more about coach Butch Jones' secondary.

Tennessee is on the cusp of starting its 11th different defensive backfield.

Note: The Regular season is 12 games.

The shuffling of the offensive front and the closetful of injured defensive tackles have gotten a majority of the attention as the Volunteers came up just short of a Southeastern Conference Eastern Division banner. But, consistency in the secondary has been hard to come by.

"We just don't have the continuity and teams are getting better all the time and we're still trying to find the right pieces and trying to mix and match here and there," first-year Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said Monday. "But that's certainly no excuse. It's disappointing."

The Volunteers have been torched of late but a majority of those yards have come on the ground. Florida (296) and Missouri (320) were the only teams to do much damage through the air. If defensive backs can win one-on-one matchups, that could allow Shoop to allocate more defenders to the box in attempt to slow down opposing ground games.

“Everybody’s going to look at yards and everybody’s going to look at points and things like that," Shoop said. "But right now, this year — coach (Butch Jones) and I have talked about this — let’s ignore the stats, let’s go 1-0 each week, let’s talk about getting third-down stops, getting red-zone stops, creating takeaways. We’re in the top 15 in the country in takeaways and tackles for loss and that’s something we’re going to talk to the guys about — and sacks. We’re going to build off of that and be positive and move forward that way.”

The change for the regular-regular season finale at Vanderbilt looks to be at safety with sophomore Stephen Griffin being inserted for freshman Nigel Warrior, who’d gotten his first starting nod last week in the 26-point win over Missouri.

“Nigel Warrior didn’t play great, but he got an opportunity to start a game; that’s going to pay dividends down the line,” Shoop said. “Micah Abernathy’s played free and strong (safety). Baylen Buchanan’s played. Emmanuel Moseley’s played so much.” Four of Tennessee’s top five tacklers being DBs is partially a product of the lack of production on the interior of the defensive line, due in part to the array of injuries, which allows offensive linemen to get their hands on linebackers, preventing them from making plays.

Griffin has battled injuries off and on since he first arrived from Charlotte, but he’ll get his chance in Nashville.

“Stephen brings a lot of energy and he’s a very physical safety,” Vols junior cornerback Emmanuel Moseley said Wednesday. “In the Kentucky game, he came down and made a tackle and forced a fumble. He’s a very physical guy and he likes to tackle so that will be good.”

Vanderbilt doesn’t figure to operate with the same tempo as Missouri (110 plays), but it will force Vols defenders to wrap up. Leading tackler and safety Todd Kelly Jr. (ankle) is not expected to play.

Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur is starting to find a hot hand. The sophomore has completed 34 of 59 passes for 525 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions over the last eight quarters. Fourth-year receiver C.J. Duncan is a favorite target and has a team-leading 37 catches for 433 yards but averages just 11.7 yards per reception and has no grabs for a score.

Prior to Game 11, Moseley started every contest at either left or right cornerback. Senior Malik Foreman got the nod against Mizzou.

Here's a look at the expected starting secondary in Nashville:

Photo by Danny Parker ©?

Photo by Danny Parker ©?

Photo by Danny Parker ©?

Photo by Danny Parker ©?

Photo by Danny Parker ©?

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