Secondary saviour?

The return of fifth-year senior cornerback Roshaun Fellows to Tennessee's football program is a mixed blessing. On the plus side, he has played a position at which the Vols desperately need help.

On the minus side, Fellows hasn't played that position in nearly a year.

Roshaun Fellows started four games as a redshirt freshman in 2004 and eight as a sophomore in 2005. He sat out the 2006 season, however, while recovering from surgery on a strained pectoral muscle.

Because of the nature of his position and the fact he just missed one year, Fellows should be more help at cornerback in 2007 than Jonathan Mapu – returning from a two-year layoff – was at defensive tackle in 2006. Still, Tennessee's coaches are reluctant to pronounce Fellows ready to step in and play as if he never missed a beat.

"We'll see," defensive coordinator John Chavis says. "Hopefully, he can come back. He'll have a chance to compete. It doesn't mean he'll be a starter. We'll see how it turns out.

"I don't think there's anybody with the exception of one or two guys where you can say, ‘That's going to be our starter.' It's going to be wide-open. Roshaun Fellows will have the same opportunity as other guys."

Cornerback is probably the weakest position on Tennessee's depth chart this spring. All three players who started there in 2006 are no longer available. Jonathan Wade and Antwan Stewart are out of eligibility, while Inquoris Johnson is through with football due to nerve damage in his shoulder suffered last fall.

Fortunately for Tennessee, Fellows' injury was not the career-ending type. He is healthy again as he prepares for his fifth and final season as a Vol.

"Roshaun Fellows is 100 percent," head coach Phillip Fulmer says. "He should be in the mix with a chance to be a starter. I'm expecting him to come out with a tremendous attitude."

Even with Fellows in the mix, the competition at corner is pretty sparse this spring. The contenders also include senior Antonio Gaines, sophomores Marsalous Johnson and Ricardo Kemp, plus mid-term enrollee Art Evans. None has ever started a college game. Kemp has 11 career tackles to his credit, Gaines 7, Johnson 2. Evans, of course, has never played a down at the collegiate level.

Not surprisingly, Fulmer speaks cautiously when asked about the outlook at corner.

"Antonio Gaines is a guy with speed, quickness, ability and everything," the head man notes. "He's just got to show toughness. I'd put Roshaun in the same category.

"Marsalous Johnson has shown he has the toughness and the speed and the quickness. He's just got to get more consistent."

Given the shortage of proven talent at cornerback, incoming freshman Eric Berry (Fairburn, Ga.) and incoming junior college transfer DeAngelo Willingham (College of the Desert) will get every opportunity to win jobs in August. Until then, however, the competition will consist mostly of Fellows, Gaines and Johnson.

As Fulmer notes: "It's kind of between those three guys before those other guys (Berry, Willingham) get here this fall to see who will establish themselves as starting corners."

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