Fellows no lock to start for UT

He was a Sporting News Freshman All-American in 2004. He's a fifth-year senior who has 12 college starts to his credit. He has played more varsity snaps than all of Tennessee's other cornerback candidates combined.

Given all of this, Roshaun Fellows seemed to be a sure starter for the 2007 Vols. When he picked off an interception in Saturday's full-scale scrimmage at Neyland Stadium, that seemed to solidify his status as a first-teamer. But that isn't the case at all. He is currently stuck behind Antonio Gaines and Marsalous Johnson, two guys with zero college starts between them.

Gaines has 10 tackles and one pass breakup to show for three years as a little-used backup. Johnson recorded two tackles as a freshman in 2006, with one of those coming on special teams. Still, both have performed better this spring than Fellows, who is rounding back into form after missing the '06 season due to surgery on a pectoral muscle.

"I thought Roshaun competed hard," secondary coach Larry Slade said of the scrimmage. "Marsalous and Antonio have played really well, and Roshaun has been kind of that third guy. Today he stepped it up, competed hard and made some football plays. I was really proud of him, the way he worked."

Asked if Fellows appears rusty following his layoff, Slade shrugged.

"I don't know," the Vol aide said. "I saw him do some things early but those other two guys have had exceptional springs. He's getting better. I think the more he goes out and plays the better he'll be."

Minus Jonathan Wade, Inky Johnson, Antwan Stewart and Demetrice Morley from the 2006 secondary, Tennessee's defensive backfield looked to be a disaster area heading into spring practice. Except for All-America candidate Jonathan Hefney at safety, the outlook appeared downright bleak. Yet, Slade suggests his youthful troops have performed well.

"We have some guys that are playing good … have all spring," the Vol aide said. "Marsalous Johnson and Antonio Gaines are playing well. Hefney is Hefney. And Jarod (Parrish) has made some progress."

Like Gaines, Parrish is a rising senior who has done little to date to suggest he is an SEC-caliber player. He intercepted three passes during Saturday's scrimmage, however, and may be ready to contribute at long last.

Gaines and Johnson recorded four tackles each in Saturday's scrimmage. So did sophomore safety Antonio Wardlow, who also contributed a pass breakup. Parrish had three stops in addition to his three interceptions and Fellows had one tackle in addition to his pick. Moreover, the defensive backs allowed quarterbacks Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens to complete just 29 of 57 passes for 258 yards and zero touchdowns in the 135-play scrimmage.

Perhaps the inexperience of Tennessee's receiving corps is making the Vol secondary look deceptively good this spring. Or maybe the defensive backs are better than advertised. Regardless, Slade is pleased with what he has seen so far.

"Certainly," he said. "You look at it and say, ‘You haven't given up a lot of big plays.' That's our job, and we're really proud of that."

Perhaps Johnson, Gaines, Fellows, Parrish and Wardlow will prove themselves capable of filling important roles this fall. If not, Tennessee's signing class includes three potential starters – top-ranked cornerback prospect Eric Berry, plus junior college transfers DeAngelo Willingham and Nevin McKenzie.

"We've got some experience," Slade said, "but it's going to be very competitive when we get everybody here. I'll say that."

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