Vols Do Safety Dance

Tennessee didn't play good defense when it came to keeping New Jersey safety prospect Nyshier Oliver in the Big Orange fold, but UT's coaching staff did prove it could rebound by gaining a commitment from D.J. Swearinger, a safety prospect from Greenwood, S.C.

In terms of prospect rankings it appears to be a replacing a prospect with one of less than equal value. The Vols are losing a four-star safety in Oliver who is ranked No. 20 by Scout.com, whereas D.J. Swearinger is rated a three-star prospect and ranked No. 103 among players at his position.

That won't help UT's Class of 2009 prospect average as calculated by the recruiting services, but it's far too early to call it a downgrade. The fact is recruiting services routinely exchange information with coaching staffs to help set rankings, but there are also variables which greatly impact the evaluation of talent.

For instance: Tennessee may see the 5-foot-11, 198-pound Swearinger as a linebacker in the future. He fits the Eddie Moore/Kevin Simon mode of low-profile, high-impact, ultra-athletic, big-play defenders. He could also play a hybrid LB/DB role especially in short to medium yardage situations, effectively providing an extra defender against the run as well as coverage in the drop zones. He could also pose a blitz threat that would be difficult to read.

Then again Swearinger, who bench presses 265 pounds and squats 385 pounds, might just become a big honking safety who hits like a Mac truck and an intimidator in coverage. He's certainly athletic enough to do that. He boasts a remarkable 41-inch vertical, displays good lateral quickness and hits with maximum force and ferocity.

"I have the ability to go out and make plays," he told national recruiting director Allen Wallace of SuperPrep.com. "I have a lot of experience and I'm like a quarterback of the defense. I'm smart and know what to do. I also love to hit. If it's moving, I'll hit it. I like laying down a whooping.

"But I'm still trying to improve on every aspect of my game. You always have to keep trying to get better. Even the pros aren't perfect." D.J. has been perfecting his craft long before becoming a starter for Greenwood High School as a freshman. He played both linebacker and defensive back until settling in at free safety as a junior. Swearinger responded with 93 tackles, two blocked field goals, a pair of blocked punts, a blocked punt return for a touchdown and an interception, helping Greenwood to an 11-2 mark. In 2006, he was intregal to Greenwood's 4A state titled drive.

If there's a knock on Swearinger it may due to a 4.69 he clocked at the Scout.com Combine in Charlotte last spring. In other timed runs he has turned faster readings including a reported 4.55. If we split the difference at 4.62 it's still fast enough to play strong safety in UT's system particularly when enhanced by acute instincts and a good first step.

There were certainly no shortage of good programs that were satisfied with Swearinger's credentials, as he chose Tennessee over offers from Auburn, Michigan, South Carolina and North Carolina among others. His enthusiasm for Tennessee football is sure to connect with Big Orange fans.

"I grew up watching Tennessee," Swearinger told Wallace. "When I was younger, I just loved the way they played. I had a really great time when I was there. All the coaches seemed like great guys and I got to talk to just about all of them one-on-one. I just felt comfortable there and felt like that could be a place where I could see myself living for about four to five years. I also think I fit their system well and could see myself do well there."

Swearinger almost committed to UT during senior camp in June, but Tuesday he said the Vols have been his clear leader since they first offered.

In addition to the commitment from D.J. Swearinger, the Vols have also have verbals from D.J. Hunter, a cornerback from Middletown, Ohio, as well as D.T. Shackelford, a linebacker from Decatur, Ala.

Undoubtedly, the job of arming UT's D has met with initial success.

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