Jarod a backup? Parrish the thought

After intercepting four passes in three spring scrimmages, Jarod Parrish has earned the confidence of Tennessee's coaches and Tennessee's players.

Most importantly, he has earned the confidence of Jarod Parrish. After a redshirt year and three years of mostly mop-up duty, the 6-3, 190-pound senior from Summerville, Ga., appears poised to finally make his mark as a Volunteer. He enters preseason drills with a first-team berth at strong safety and loads of self-assurance.

"I feel like my biggest improvement is playing with a little bit more confidence," he said recently.

A little bit? In truth, Parrish's confidence level is light-years ahead of this time last year. Asked what it would take to dislodge him as the No. 1 strong safety, he answered without hesitation.

"I feel somebody would have to be All-American to beat me out," he said. "I'm going to help them (younger defensive backs) out the best I can but I'm going to play my hardest."

Parrish says his confidence began to increase – along with his playing time – in the late stages of the 2006 season. He rarely left the sidelines in September and October, and that proved difficult for him.

"I wasn't getting as much playing time as I would've liked," he said. "Once I got that (playing time), I was more consistent."

As the season progressed, Parrish began getting a few more snaps each game. Thanks to some quality work during bowl preparations, he got to see significant action in the Outback Bowl vs. Penn State.

"My confidence started growing in the middle of the season last year," he said. "The last couple of games before the bowl game I started making a lot of plays. Then (due to) the fact I was playing well throughout the Outback Bowl, it continued growing."

Although Parrish hasn't played a lot to date, he has learned a lot during his four years in the Volunteer program. You can benefit from practice if you don't just go through the motions.

"Experience means a lot," he said. "There's certain things you're going to see in a game, and the only way you're going to see those things is in game situations and scrimmages.

"It's a different feel. If you see something, it's better than somebody telling you about it. It helps if you've seen something before. If you messed up on a play before, the next time you know what's going to happen, so you don't mess up again."

Parrish was the breakout player of spring practice, making three interceptions in one scrimmage. Suddenly, he wasn't obscure anymore.

"It made me feel good," he recalled. "It let me know I can do it and it's something I want to continue to try and do."

Although the three interceptions shocked reporters covering the scrimmage, many of Parrish's teammates weren't terribly surprised.

"They looked at me somewhat different but a lot of people already knew I could be a good player," he said. "It was just a matter of time before I showed it."

Parrish thought he was poised for a big junior year, only to have an injury reduce his role.

"Before my junior season I was really healthy," he said. "I was feeling good but then I got hurt during camp."

Now that his health and his confidence have returned, Parrish is eager to show what he can do. He's especially eager to battle two junior college transfers – Nevin McKenzie and DeAngelo Willingham – that Tennessee signed to compete for starting jobs in the secondary.

"It motivated me a lot," he said of the signings. "They (coaches) told me I had the (job), and I just had to play hard. So I'm going to play as hard as I can, and if somebody beats me out they're going to have to be really good."

Heck, they may have to be an All-American.

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