Marsalous to the rescue

Tennessee's cornerback depth took two major hits when 2007 starter Brent Vinson was suspended for Game 1 and 2008 starter Dennis Rogan missed the final 2½ quarters of Monday night's opener with a pulled stomach muscle.

Fortunately for the Vols, their depth at corner is so good that they were able to insert a player the caliber of Marsalous Johnson, a 5-9, 180-pound junior from Smyrna. He had started the first seven games of 2007 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury.

Even more fortunately for the Vols, Johnson was prepared when secondary coach Larry Slade rushed him into the lineup in the second quarter Monday night at the Rose Bowl.

"Anything can happen in football, so I was ready the whole game," Johnson says. "I was already warmed up because I was in the Mustang (five-defensive backs) Package."

Still, being thrust into the game under such adverse circumstances was a bit unexpected.

"It was amazing because that's the first time I'd been in the mix since the Alabama game of last year," he says. "It was fun, I got a lot of experience and I'm ready to do it again whenever I have to."

Rogan's injury was hardly a new development at UT. Vol defensive backs dropped like flies in 2007. Game 1 starter Antonio Gaines suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 2 and Johnson, the other Game 1 starter, followed suit in Game 7. Johnson's replacement, DeAngelo Willingham, then missed most of the SEC Championship Game due to injury.

Given all of the above, Johnson admits he "wasn't really surprised" when Rogan got hurt, adding: "It was like last year when Antonio Gaines went out and then I went out. It can happen at any time, so I stayed positive and stayed ready. Coach Slade told me I was going to get a lot of playing time, so I was ready to go in."

Few teams in college football boast the luxury of backup corners with as much starting experience as Vinson (10 games), Johnson (7 games) and Gaines (2 games). Tennessee is very lucky in this regard.

"That's great for the coaches when you've got a bunch of DBs you can throw in the game," Johnson says. "When one of them's hurt and one of them's suspended, that's just a great thing."

Despite some rust, Johnson finished Game 1 with a tackle, an assist and a pass breakup. All in all, it was a solid performance for his first time in live action since Oct. 20 of last year.

"I think I played pretty good," he says. "There were some coverages I could've played a little better but, overall, I think I played pretty good."


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