Morley making most of 2nd chance

Recording a sack and an interception in a spring scrimmage isn't such a big deal ... unless it's your first sack and your first interception in more than a year. Then it's cause for celebration.

That's why Demetrice Morley was celebrating after Tennessee's first full-scale scrimmage of the spring last Saturday. Following a year of academic exile at Pellissippi State, he is thrilled to be back in school and back in action. Recording a six-yard sack and a 23-yard interception return in his first scrimmage since rejoining the team made quite a statement.

"That was big," he said, grinning broadly.

A Parade Magazine, USA Today and U.S. Army All-American as a senior at Killian High in Miami, Morley was perhaps the most celebrated recruit of Tennessee's 2005 signing class. After playing a backup role as a true freshman in the fall of '05, he started 10 of 13 games at strong safety in 2006. Just as he seemed on the verge of stardom, however, he was summarily dismissed from school one year ago.

To say the Vols missed Morley last fall might be the understatement of the year. Forced to start two freshmen and a junior college transfer in the secondary, Tennessee ranked 11th among the 12 SEC schools in both pass defense and pass-defense efficiency.

Watching Tennessee's youthful defensive backs getting torched on a regular basis last fall made Morley acutely aware he had let down his coaches and teammates. The resulting guilt made him take a critical look at himself.

"It was hard, man, knowing I should be out there with them," he said. "I felt real bad, and I felt it was all because of me. But we can't worry about that. It's in the past and we've got to move on. I'm excited about this group of guys we've got this year."

Morley combines with Eric Berry to give Tennessee perhaps the most gifted safety tandem in program history. They might be the two finest athletes on the current Vol roster. Before he can win a starting job, however, Morley must win back the trust of the people he disappointed one year ago.

"I've got to show the coaches I'm not that person that I was," he said. "I've changed. I'm here to work hard and give it my all."

His all was pretty good last Saturday. He finished the scrimmage with 3 tackles, including the afore-mentioned sack and interception.

"Making big plays is what you're supposed to do," he said.

Morley certainly did what he was supposed to in 2006, ranking third on the Vol defense with 18 big plays. That total included 7 tackles for loss, 8 pass breakups, 2 interceptions, a sack, a quarterback hurry, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick.

With the 2008 Vols desperate for difference-makers, Morley's return could be a real godsend. He would like nothing better than to redeem himself.

"I just want to be part of the team again," he said. "I'm happy to be here. I thank the coaches and everybody.

"I know that I messed up, and I know I have a lot to make up, but I'm just taking it day by day."

From all accounts, he is having a lot of good days this spring.

"He's playing well," defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "You don't lose the talent. He had some experience, and he didn't let that go to waste. He's built on what he had done before."

Best of all, Demetrice Morley has matured.

"He's a year older," secondary coach Larry Slade noted. "That year of experience was great – being away from it, maturing and doing some of the tough things he had to do while he was away from it.

"At the same time, he stayed hooked up (mentally). He had a goal to get back and he worked really hard to get back. He realizes what is at stake and has grown up. That's the best way to say it. He has some goals in mind and he's working real hard to attain those."

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