Safety outlook improves

Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer was concerned about the safety spots heading into the Sept. 3 opener against Alabama-Birmingham, and with good reason.

The starters (junior Antwan Stewart and sophomore Jonathan Hefney) were converted cornerbacks who had never played safety. One of the chief backups was a true freshman (Demetrice Morley) who had never played a snap at the college level and the other (Corey Campbell) was sitting out the game on a disciplinary suspension.

Fortunately for Fulmer, the outlook has improved significantly in the past 10 days.

Hefney proved himself capable by playing exceptionally well at free safety in Game 1. Stewart struggled a bit at strong safety but Morley came on to perform admirably after replacing him. Campbell's availability further brightens the safety outlook as the Vols prepare for Game 2 Saturday night at Florida.

"I feel better," Fulmer said. "I feel better that Morley's played, even that Antwan's played at safety. I feel really good about Jon Hefney. He plays hard. He plays his assignments. He's getting better all the time with his techniques and things. I'm very encouraged about that. And Corey adds depth there, and that's a good thing."

Because Morley played most of the second half vs. UAB, there was speculation that the talented rookie might supplant Stewart in the Game 2 starting lineup. Not so. Fulmer said Stewart and Hefney will start Saturday night in Gainesville. But Morley made a positive impression with his Game 1 showing.

"Morley's a young guy who is still going to make mistakes from time to time," Fulmer noted.

Morley's chances of starting Game 2 were hurt by an ankle injury he suffered against UAB. He's practicing on it but he still isn't 100 percent.

"Until he plays in a game with a little bit of an injury, I don't know (how he'll do) because I haven't seen him yet," Fulmer said. "He seems like a tough-minded kid but he needs to get past that (injury) and be as close to 100 percent as he can."

Although Hefney and Stewart will start this weekend, the reserve safeties figure prominently in Tennessee's plans.

"Morley's right in the mix," Fulmer said. "Campbell will play and (freshman Antonio) Wardlow is coming."


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