Vols 'corner' the market

Some years Tennessee can't find two quality cornerbacks to put on the field. This year the Vols have so many quality corners they're having to play some of them at safety.

Here's a quick rundown of the leading candidates:

- Antonio Gaines, a 5-9, 185-pound senior who started the first two games last fall before suffering a season-ending ACL tear.

- Brent Vinson, a 6-0, 190-pound sophomore who started the last nine games last fall due to Gaines' injury.

- Marsalous Johnson, a 5-9, 180-pound junior who started the first seven games last season before suffering a season-ending ACL injury.

- DeAngelo Willingham, a 6-0, 200-pound senior who started the last seven games last fall after Johnson went down.

- Dennis Rogan, a 5-10, 185-pound sophomore who blossomed in spring practice and is listed No. 1 at right corner on the preseason depth chart.

With five quality players and only two starting spots, it's obvious that three pretty good corners will be relegated to backup duty. How will head coach Phillip Fulmer handle this situation?

"It's up to THEM to handle it," he said. "They'll compete, and the best players will play. We had a very precarious situation last year – starting three freshmen in the SEC Championship Game because of injuries – but that depth gives us some flexibility now.

"Competition for positions on a daily basis makes us all better. It gives us a chance to play nickel and dime packages with experienced guys out there. I'm very encouraged."

The coach is especially encouraged by the play of Willingham, who he says "probably made as much progress in a year as any junior college player I've ever had. In his own way he's taken on a quiet leadership role with this team. I like that because he's the right kind of example – on the field and off the field."

Tennessee's abundance of depth at corner is offset somewhat by a scarcity of depth at safety. Because there are no proven players behind starters Eric Berry and Demetrice Morley, Rogan and Willingham could be first-teamers at corner and second-teamers at safety.

Ideally, young safeties such as redshirt freshmen Daryl Vereen and Anthony Anderson will prove themselves between now and the Sept. 1 opener.

"I'm very hopeful that a couple of the young guys can come through for us – either at safety or move a corner inside," Fulmer said. "Numbers-wise, we would like to have more DBs out there."

Even being a tad thin at safety, the head man is enthusiastic about the prospects for the 2008 secondary.

"We have a great situation in terms of competition," he said. "As they say, the cream will rise to the top."


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