Sexy signees

Tennessee's secondary signees are a lot like Angelina Jolie's lips ... so prominent and intriguing that trying to turn your attention anywhere else is an exercise in futility.

Simply put, the Vols are bringing in six freshman defensive backs who are capable of challenging for starting jobs in August. All are fast. All are athletic. All are heralded. All are rated four-star prospects by Scout.com.

Here are the particulars, in case you've forgotten:

- Janzen Jackson (Lake Charles, La.) is Scout.com's No. 15 cornerback.

- Marsalis Teague (Paris, Tenn.) is Scout.com's No. 18 cornerback.

- Mike Edwards (Cleveland, Ohio) is Scout.com's No. 21 cornerback.

- Eric Gordon (Nashville) is Scout.com's No. 29 cornerback.

- Darren Myles (Atlanta) is Scout.com's No. 8 safety.

- Nyshier Oliver (Jersey City, N.J.) is Scout.com's No. 20 safety.

Even defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin admits that any of the six could see action Sept. 5 when the Vols open the 2009 season against Western Kentucky.

"They could," he said. "A lot will depend on how fast they pick it up this summer."

Lane Kiffin, Monte's son and the Vols' head coach, routinely played true freshmen when he was offensive coordinator at Southern Cal and plans to do the same at Tennessee. Given how gifted this group of rookie DBs is, it's a virtual cinch that three or four of them will play right away.

"That's Lane's philosophy, coming from Southern Cal," Monte said. "It depends on how fast they pick it up."

Increasing the odds that freshmen will play key roles in Tennessee's secondary this fall is the fact that only one job is locked down coming out of spring practice – Eric Berry at strong safety. With Demetrice Morley dismissed, Brent Vinson sidelined by shoulder surgery and Dennis Rogan splitting time between free safety and cornerback, Tennessee's secondary picture couldn't be more muddled.

The veteran defensive coordinator promises to give each of the six rookies a chance but he will not give any of them the inside track to a first-team job.

"There's nobody really on the pole," he said. "Just because you're a highly touted four-star or five-star player (doesn't mean) you're our starter ... it won't happen that way. You're going to have to win it. We're going to give 'em a chance to earn that position."

After giving the veteran defensive backs long looks in spring practice, Kiffin and secondary coach Willie Mack Garza will give the rookie DBs equally long looks in preseason drills.

"Maybe some of them are ready to play. Maybe some aren't," Kiffin said. "You won't know if you don't put 'em in there in practice, find out if they can do it. You can't give 'em two or three reps per day. You've got to give 'em the reps. That's where Lane's taken his philosophy, and that's what we're going to do."

The Vols' post-spring depth chart shows Vinson and Rogan bracketed first-team at left cornerback, with sophomore Art Evans first-team at right cornerback ahead of 2007 starter Marsalous Johnson. Sophomore Stephaun Raines and redshirt freshman Prentiss Waggner are bracketed No. 1 at free safety.

Rogan has a good chance to start since he has proven himself capable at both cornerback and safety. If a couple of freshman corners turn heads in preseason drills, he likely will return to safety, where he played in 2007. If Myles proves to be the real deal at safety, however, Rogan could find a home at corner.

Basically, no one knows how Tennessee's secondary will shake out ... even the Vols' defensive coordinator.

"We're just moving people around," Monte Kiffin said. "We're fairly flexible there. I don't know who it's going to be for sure.

"It's going to be a real battle (as to) who's going to start there. I don't think we'll know that until it gets close to the season."


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