"We made the decision on Sunday after we found out about Antonio Gaines, to play him (Vinson) both ways," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "He has considerable background in the secondary, and we worked him there quite a bit in camp."
A speedy 6-2, 190-pounder, Brent Vinson was first-team all-state in 2005 as a senior receiver/cornerback/kick returner at Phoebus High in Hampton, Va. Thanks to some academic issues, he spent 2006 at Hargrave (Va.) Military before joining the Vols this August.
"He's just one of those guys that can be a natural," Fulmer said. "We're not going to ask him to do everything that they (veteran defensive backs) do, but he is going to play both ways for us."
Vinson's switch isn't the only move precipitated by Gaines' injury, of course. Jarod Parrish, who started Game 1 at strong safety, has reclaimed that position. Freshman Eric Berry, who started Game 2 at strong safety, has moved into the vacated first-team cornerback slot.
"He'd never played corner before he got here but he's such a talented guy," Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis said of Berry. "He has all those things you look for, and he's going to be fine, no matter where he plays.
Berry, a safety in high school, apparently failed to provide deep help for corner Marsalous Johnson on a 69-yard touchdown play last Saturday vs. Southern Miss. Obviously, playing safety for Tennessee is a lot more complicated than playing safety was back in high school at Fairburn, Ga. In fact, playing safety for Tennessee is a lot more complicated than playing cornerback for Tennessee.
"It is," Chavis said. "It's a lot more difficult to play safety in our scheme."
Parrish played so poorly in Game 1 that he lost his first-team job. He's a hard worker who may lack the agility to run with Florida's speedy receivers this Saturday at Gainesville. Can he find a way to compensate?
"You hope so," Chavis said. "He played well (in Game 2 vs. Southern Miss). We'll see how it goes down the stretch. There's nothing etched in stone. You make changes when you need to.... We're trying to get better. If that means we've got to change people around, that's what we'll do."
Asked if the fact Parrish is a fifth-year senior will help him deal with the pressure of playing No. 4 Florida in front of a hostile crowd and a national TV audience, Chavis hedged.
"We'll see," the coordinator replied. "He's got a lot of experience as a practice guy but not a lot playing. We've got a lot of young guys out there and we've got some guys that have played there before. We'll see."
Sophomore safety Ricardo Kemp made some good plays in Game 1 vs. Cal and Game 2 vs. Southern Miss. Perhaps he's ready to help at Florida.
"He IS helping," Chavis said. "There's no question about that. We're looking for a few good hands, and he's shown up. We're excited. I think he's getting comfortable with what he's doing, and I think that's showing up on the field."