Defending the DBs

After watching Tennessee's secondary surrender 26 completions and 400-plus passing yards in last Saturday's full-scale scrimmage, head coach Phillip Fulmer hoped he'd find some positives when he reviewed the film. He did.

"There were some good things," Fulmer said. "Antwan Stewart had a real good scrimmage. Jon Wade made a couple of good plays and moved up. Demetrice Morley showed up, made three or four plays. Antonio Wardlow did very well, put himself in a position to compete for us."

Stewart, who came to Tennessee as a 163-pound cornerback, has grown into a 203-pound safety heading into his junior year. He landed some big licks in the scrimmage and looked very comfortable providing the run support demanded by his new position.

"Antwan is a pretty physical kid," Fulmer said. "He's coming along. He was a skinny little kid when he got here."

The play of Morley and Wardlow was especially encouraging to Fulmer. Only freshmen, their rapid progress suggests they can provide immediate help this fall.

Wade's fine play enabled him to move past Roshaun Fellows and become UT's No. 1 left cornerback. His stay was short-lived, however. He subsequently sustained an Achilles injury that will sideline him indefinitely.

Although the secondary gave up a couple of big plays (a 69-yarder and a 65-yarder) last Saturday, Fulmer said the problem in the defensive backfield was a lack of execution, not a lack of leadership.

"It (leadership) couldn't be any better," he said, noting that cornerback Jason Allen is "no doubt the leader of the group. Everybody else is kind of finding their place in the pecking order. Some other guys are talking about being leaders but they aren't yet."

Despite some secondary busts last Saturday, Fulmer believes the defensive backs have the mental and physical attributes to be successful.

"I like the chemistry that seems to be developing," he said.

Still, Fulmer will be watching the secondary closely when the Vols hold full-scale scrimmage No. 2 this Saturday night.

"It's big for us," he said. "Have we taken the steps physically, mentally, adjustment-wise, communication-wise?"

With good scrimmage performances this weekend, Morley and and Wardlow could solidify their spots in the safety rotation. Tennessee's Sept. 3 opener against Alabama-Birmingham is rapidly approaching, so personnel decisions have to be made in short order.

"That's why it's important for us to settle pretty soon on who those (top eight) guys are going to be, so the first-team guys get 60 percent of the reps and the second-team 40 percent," Fulmer said. "We've got to start getting ready for games."

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