Dynamic DBs

Good defensive backs make plays. Great defensive backs make game-changing plays.

The 2008 Tennessee Vols have some potentially great defensive backs – guys who can turn a game with a single spectacular play.

The leader of the pack, of course, is strong safety Eric Berry. All he did as a freshman last fall was return five interceptions for 222 yards, an eye-popping average of 45 yards per runback. He also returned a fumble 52 yards. He's the epitome of the big-play defensive back.

Another guy with a knack for the spectacular is junior free safety Demetrice Morley. He sat out 2007 due to academic issues but produced 18 big plays in 2006, including 8 pass breakups, 7 tackles for loss, a sack and a blocked kick.

Dennis Rogan proved his big-play ability on special teams last fall, returning a kickoff 78 yards against Arkansas and a punt 45 yards against Vanderbilt. Those big-play skills should be even more evident now that he's also a first-team cornerback.

DeAngelo Willingham, the other starter in UT's secondary, isn't as flashy as Berry, Morley and Rogan but he has exhibited a knack for bone-jarring hits and air-tight coverage.

In short, Tennessee's defensive backfield projects to make a glut of game-changing plays in the months ahead.

"Big plays can be made – interceptions, fumbles, big hits," Morley conceded. "There's a lot expected of us. We're just going to go out there and give it all we've got. We want to play good Tennessee defense, expecting to make big plays.

"Big plays change the momentum of the game and change the game around. Offense sells tickets but defense wins championships. We just want to do what we do best."

Even though Morley wasn't eligible to play for the Vols last season, he watched with interest as Berry developed into one of the NCAA's premier defensive backs. Now they form what could be the finest safety tandem in college football.

"I knew he was a special player," Morley recalled. "I always called him to tell him good luck, hope you do well, keep working hard. We sort of started that brotherly bond before I even came back here. When I got here it just got stronger. We started working together as a team, learning everything and trying to be students of the game."

Berry has made tremendous strides in spring practice and preseason camp, strides he credits to having a player of Morley's caliber working alongside him. Still, Morley dismisses the idea that he's taking any pressure off of Berry's shoulders.

"I don't think there's any kind of pressure," he said. "We just go out and make plays."

They make game-changing plays, to be precise. That's what great defensive backs do.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories