Secondary has 'flexibility'

An old adage says ''There is safety in numbers,'' and Tennessee secondary coach Larry Slade believes that. He also believes there is ''numbers at safety'' for this year's Vols.

Rashad Baker (free safety) and Julian Battle (strong safety) are legitimate All-SEC candidates. Backing them are capable reserves Mark Jones, Gibril Wilson and Steven Marsh. Jones recorded 37 stops last fall. Marsh has three career starts to his credit. Wilson is a highly touted junior college transfer.

The Vols are so solid at safety, in fact, that Battle and Jones are getting some work at cornerback. That gives Slade a lot of options when he goes to his Mustang package featuring additional defensive backs.

''We're flexible,'' he conceded. ''We have the ability to play Julian at corner, which is a blessing. And we have the ability to play Mark at corner, which is a blessing.''

Some players struggle when asked to learn two positions. Battle and Jones are so comfortable playing both safety and corner, however, that Slade isn't worried about the extra mental load being placed on them.

''That doesn't concern me at all; we don't even talk about that anymore,'' the Vol aide said. ''The safety part is the tough part. As a corner, you're directed a lot of times by the safety as to whether you're playing the flat or playing deep. We don't talk about it a lot because those guys are pretty experienced from that standpoint.''

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