Berry's on move again

Tennessee's most talented defensive back is still living on the same block; he just keeps changing homes.

After starting at nickel back in Game 1, at strong safety in Game 2 and at left cornerback in Game 3, freshman Eric Berry will be back at strong safety in Game 4 against Arkansas State Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

Berry moved to safety for Game 2 because Cal exploited Jarod Parrish in Game 1. Berry has moved back to safety for Game 4 because Florida exploited Parrish in Game 3.

With Berry returning to safety, the left cornerback spot will be filled either by junior college transfer DeAngelo Willingham or true freshman Brent Vinson. Vinson played mostly wide receiver until two weeks ago.

"Brent Vinson is going to have to get ready to help us some," defensive coordinator John Chavis noted earlier this week.

Replacing a fifth-year senior like Parrish with a true freshman like Berry is a downgrade in terms of experience but it's a significant upgrade in terms of speed and athleticism. Based on Games 1-3, the Vol secondary needs all the speed and athleticism it can get.

Tennessee's first three opponents – Cal, Southern Miss and Florida – combined to complete 54 of 88 passes (61.4 percent) for an average of 268 yards per game and 14.9 yards per completion. The Vols have surrendered five completions of more than 40 yards – 69, 49, 49, 48 and 44.

The latest shakeup will give Tennessee its fourth secondary lineup in as many games. This is a foreign concept to Chavis, who rarely makes personnel changes.

"I've been fortunate to coach some great defenses, and the one thing they have in common in most situations is continuity," he said. "Once they get used to working together and communicating, it makes it a lot easier. We're growing. We've got to get them used to working with each other and communicating with each other."

Tennessee's coaches knew the secondary was a potential trouble spot heading into 2007. The Vols lost four of their top five defensive backs from 2006 – Inky Johnson (injury), Jonathan Wade (out of eligibility), Antwan Stewart (out of eligibility) and Demetrice Morley (dismissed).

Tennessee responded by signing a glut of defensive-back prospects last winter. These included jucos Willingham and Nevin McKenzie, plus high schoolers Berry, Dennis Rogan, C. J. Fleming and Anthony Anderson.

To date, only Berry has made significant impact. Willingham has seen his playing time increase steadily, however, and could get his first start Saturday night. Rogan is working his way into the mix at safety.

"Rogan is going to have to get ready to help us some," Chavis said. "He definitely has the talent. I like where he is."

Head coach Phillip Fulmer also likes the progress he's seeing from Rogan, a native Knoxvillian.

"I'm really happy with what Dennis Rogan has done and how fast he has progressed at safety since we moved him over there," the head man said. "I think as time goes on, he will get more playing time.

"And DeAngelo Willingham is pushing himself in that direction. I like what he is doing right now and where he is from an attitude standpoint."

Fleming and Anderson are probably ticketed for redshirt years, while McKenzie is probably ticketed for a position switch.

"McKenzie has struggled with his coverages," Fulmer noted, adding that the 6-2, 210-pounder is "better at the physical game" and "navigating himself to being a Sam (strong-side) linebacker."

Tennessee's defense is surrendering 31.7 points per game thus far, and a big chunk of that figure can be traced to the Vols' inability to defend against the pass.

"I wouldn't use the word ‘frustrating,' but it's awfully disappointing when you look at the results that we've played as poorly as we have at times," Chavis said. "That's unacceptable. I'm not frustrated with the players. I'm disappointed that we've played poorly at times, and that responsibility comes to me."

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