Vol position analysis: DBs

This is the ninth in a series of articles comparing Tennessee's 2009 talent at each position with its 2008 talent at the same position. Today's topic: Defensive backs.

First-year Vol secondary coach Willie Mack Garza had to feel like a kid at Christmas the first time he put Tennessee's defensive backs through a full-scale practice last spring.

In addition to college football's premier DB, the inimitable Eric Berry, the Big Orange secondary featured two more rare talents – Demetrius Morley and Brent Vinson – along with Dennis Rogan, who started 10 games at cornerback last fall. In short, Garza appeared to have the makings of the best secondary in the SEC ... maybe the best secondary in the NCAA.

Well ... times have changed. Morley has been dismissed from the team due to a series of disciplinary mishaps and Vinson may be gone, as well, pending the resolution of a serious legal matter.

The departure of Morley leaves Stephaun Raines as the heir-apparent at free safety. If so, the Vols will be replacing a 6-2, 200-pound senior who has two years' starting experience with a 5-10, 178-pound sophomore who has never played a down in a competitive game.

If Raines isn't the answer at free safety, redshirt freshman Prentiss Waggner (6-2, 177) could be. He's a gifted athlete but is even more inexperienced than Raines.

Three more option at free safety are incoming freshmen Darren Myles (6-2, 190) from Atlanta, Janzen Jackson (6-0, 174) from Lake Charles, La., and Eric Gordon (5-10, 187) from Nashville. All were rated four-star prospects when they signed with the Vols last February.

Rogan is solid at one cornerback spot but the other corner is up in the air, pending the outcome of Vinson's legal matter. The top contenders are senior Marsalous Johnson, plus sophomores Art Evans, Anthony Anderson and C. J. Fleming. If they are quick studies, incoming freshmen Mike Edwards (5-10, 170) out of Cleveland, Ohio, and Nyshier Oliver (5-10, 180) out of Jersey City, could make immediate impact at cornerback.

Backing up Berry at strong safety will be senior Derrick Furlow (6-1, 190) and redshirt freshman Rod Wilks (6-0, 220).

With 2008 starting corner DeAngelo Willingham out of eligibility, Tennessee must replace at least two of last fall's first-team defensive backs. The potential loss of Vinson further muddles a secondary outlook that appeared incredibly bright just three months ago.

Based on my usual scale of Plus-2 (significantly stronger), Plus-1 (somewhat stronger), Zero (about the same), Minus-1 (somewhat weaker) and Minus-2 (significantly weaker), I'm giving the 2009 secondary a Minus-1 rating. Morley, though a distraction off the field, was an exceptional player on it.

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