Jason Allen

Tennessee defensive back Jason Allen was surprised by the news – that he will practice some at safety.

Secondary coach Larry Slade said he plans to work Jason Allen at the last line of defense during August drills.

``We'll get Jason some reps at safety,'' Slade told me recently. ``Our objective is to get the best four players out there.''

Allen's reaction?

``I haven't had anyone mention to me about playing safety,'' said Allen, who was promised by coach Phillip Fulmer that he could play cornerback if he returned for his senior season. ``That's the first I heard of that.''

Makes you wonder about the lack of communication.

Makes you wonder if Allen will, indeed, play some free safety.

Makes you wonder if Allen is more concerned about improving his NFL stock than Tennessee's national ranking.

Allen sounds as if Tennessee's success is more important than his own.

Ask how meaningful it would be to win an SEC Championship this season, Allen said: ``I didn't come back to settle for anything less. I'd be very disappointed if we didn't. It's like I've got all my marbles in one bag, all my chips in one bag. There's no reason why we shouldn't compete for an SEC championships this year.''

Asked how meaningful it would be to improve his NFL stock, Allen said: ``That's one of my future goals, to be a top pick in the first round. But right now, my goals are to win the SEC.''

At a recent function for the Boys and Girls Club of the Greater Tennessee Valley, Allen said highlights of Tennessee's 2004 SEC championship game were being shown.

Allen said it gave him chill bumps.

If it meant going to another SEC title game, would Allen be willing to play free safety again? Sounds like it.

``I see myself as a football player, very versatile, not as a cornerback or a safety,'' Allen said.

Would he be willing to play safety the first three games to help the Vols against such explosive passing teams as UAB, Florida and LSU?

``I wouldn't let anything hold me back,'' Allen said. ``I won't let anyone dictate to me what I can or can't do.''

Asked if he's a better corner or safety, Allen said: ``I just see myself as a football player. It doesn't matter.''

If that's true, Allen, a second-year captain, could be of great value to the Vols.

Against UAB, the Vols are facing a quarterback who has thrown for over 6,700 career yards.

Against Florida, the Vols are facing the top returning passer in the SEC who has one of the nation's most accurate arms.

Against LSU, the Vols are facing a talented receiving corps that, with one misstep, can burn any secondary deep.

From Tennessee's standpoint, it would be nice to know you could use Allen at corner to lock horns with a 6-foot-3 wide receiver or play safety to prevent the big play.

Allen played cornerback as a sophomore, making eight starts. He opened last season at corner, but was moved to safety for the second game, against Florida, after the safeties struggled against UNLV.

Allen proceeded to lead the SEC in tackles with 123, becoming the first non-linebacker to lead the Vols in stops since the stat was kept starting in 1970. He earned 2005 preseason Playboy All-America honors.

But despite Allen's heroics, he couldn't patch all the holes in the secondary. The Vols were last in the SEC and 86th in the country in passing yards allowed per game (236.4) and ninth in the SEC in pass-defense efficiency.

``We were awful in the secondary,'' Fulmer said.

Allen gives Tennessee's secondary a chance to be more than respectable. Allen and Roshaun Fellows, a freshman All-American, might be the best cornerback tandem in the SEC. Jonathan Hefney has moved from corner to safety. Corey Campbell led the team with four interceptions last year, but that's not reflective of the mediocre season he had.

Allen, who missed spring practice because of shoulder surgery, doesn't anticipate any problem moving back from safety to corner. The difference in the two positions?

``Cornerback is a one-on-one matchup where you're on an island by yourself,'' Allen said. ``At safety, you're like the quarterback of the defense. You've got to be fundamentally sound and mentally prepared week in and week out and make sure everybody is on the same page.''

Allen's size (6-2, 202) and strength make him a valuable commodity at corner, someone who is not a physical mismatch for tall receivers.

Allen said he's impressed with some of the young safeties the Vols have recruited. He said Demetrius Morley is ``ahead of the rest of the guys'' and has ``a lot of potential.''

But the diplomatic Allen said he thinks Adam Myers-White and Antonio Wardlow bring a lot to the table.

``I'm not going to say this guy is better than the next because you can do a lot in one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills, but that doesn't always translate to the field,'' he said.

``You've got to earn your stripes and perform in front of 107,000 on Saturday night.''

The question is: Will Allen be performing exclusively at cornerback, or will he play safety out of necessity?

Stay tuned.

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