Fulmer says he'd start frosh DB

Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer says he would have no reservations about starting freshman Eric Berry at cornerback in the Sept. 1 opener at Cal … if Berry is the Vols' best option.

The fact Berry would be making his collegiate debut on the road is not an issue, according to the head man.

"No, we've been a good road team, and we don't want to look at things that way," Fulmer said, adding that Eric Berry will start Game 1 "if he's the best player."

That's still to be determined, of course. Marsalous Johnson, a 5-9, 180-pound sophomore from Smyrna, won the Andy Spiva Award as the most improved defensive player of spring practice and entered fall drills as a first-team cornerback. He will be difficult to dislodge when he returns from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss Tuesday's morning and evening workouts.

"Marsalous has done a heck of a job for us," Fulmer said, "and I think he'll be back in a couple of days."

Although the head man says he wouldn't hesitate to start a freshman at cornerback in a road opener, he admits having reservations about starting a freshman at some other positions in a road opener.

"You probably wouldn't want to take a quarterback and stick him out there on the road in the first game," Fulmer said, adding that he also would be hesitant to give a freshman return specialist a Game 1 start on the road.

Although the secondary is a high-stress area, the coach believes a mature freshman such as Berry could handle the pressure of making his collegiate debut on the road reasonably well.

"He's got to get in the fire sometime," Fulmer said. "And our schedule falls, as we know, with a pretty tough start (at Cal, vs. Southern Miss, at Florida), so you've got to get the best guys out there."

The head man said he hopes to have five defensive ends, five defensive tackles, six linebackers and 10 defensive backs ready for action in Game 1. Barring injury, Berry will be one of those 10 DBs, even if the 5-11, 203-pounder doesn't earn a starting job.

Fulmer noted that Berry responded "really well" in his first day with the first unit, adding: "There's good competition back there that he's created…. He's done very well."


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