Morley's waiting for his chance

He has the kind of size (6-0, 195 pounds) college coaches prize in their safeties. He also has the kind of speed (4.45 over 40 yards) you look for. He has the kind of agility, intelligence and toughness to do the job, as well.

So why isn't Demetrice Morley listed first team coming out of Tennessee's spring practice? Two reasons: Antwan Stewart and Jonathan Hefney. The incumbent safeties enjoyed excellent springs. Otherwise, Morley would've overtaken one of them.

Morley was probably the most ballyhooed member of the Vols' 2005 signing class after recording 80-plus tackles and six interceptions as a senior at Miami's Killian High School. He also averaged a mind-boggling 40.7 yards per catch on seven pass receptions as a senior.

He made steady progress in his first fall with the Vols, finishing the 2005 season with 15 tackles (all solos), an interception and three pass breakups. As happens with most young players, he should be much better as a sophomore than he was as a freshman.

"It's a natural progression," head coach Phil Fulmer said recently. "Your freshman year you're going to have mistakes. You wish they didn't but they do."

Mistakes in the secondary tend to be killers, which is why freshman defensive backs generally don't start at Tennessee. Now that he is more familiar with UT's scheme, Morley made fewer mistakes this spring and earned the trust of the coaches.

"The sophomore year he's a lot better than he was," Fulmer said. "He's got our confidence that he'll be fine."

Morley has the versatility to play either safety position and either cornerback spot. He was used exclusively at safety last fall because secondary coach Larry Slade thought he'd progress faster if he had just one set of assignments to learn. Now that Morley has a better feel for the Vol system, though, he could see time at corner, as well as safety, in the season to come.

"Demetrice is a really good football player, whether it be at strong safety, corner or free safety," Fulmer said. "He could play them all."

Given all of the tangibles and intangibles Morley brings to the table, you wonder why he wasn't able to crack the first-team lineup during spring practice.

"Stewart and Hefney haven't let him beat ‘em out," Fulmer said with a chuckle. "They had good scrimmages, too. I consider all three of those guys starters, to be honest with you. In our nickel package, all three ARE starters."

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