Big-play secondary

Look for Tennessee's secondary to make more big plays in 2009 ... and look for Tennessee's secondary to surrender more big plays in 2009.

That's the trade-off teams make when their defensive backs are ultra-aggressive - playing tight man-to-man coverage and constantly looking to intercept passes. Based on spring ball and the first four weeks of preseason drills, Vol DBs are going to be more aggressive under Willie Mack Garza than they were under predecessor Larry Slade.

"Yeah, last year we'd just try to hold on," junior free safety Dennis Rogan said recently. "It's more of an attack style now. Everybody feels comfortable back there about what they're doing, so you can kind of go after everything."

Tennessee faces the task of replacing half of last year's starting secondary. Cornerback DeAngelo Willingham ran out of eligibility; safety Demetrice Morley ran out of second chances and was dismissed last spring.

Even with a bunch of sophomores and freshmen due to play key roles this fall, Rogan believes the youthful 2009 secondary matches up well with the more experienced 2008 secondary.

"I think we should be just as good, if not better," he said. "The freshmen are peaking at the right time, so they look like they're going to be ready."

Although the freshmen make the usual rookie mistakes, they also make plays that leave practice observers shaking their heads in amazement. Janzen Jackson, Darren Myles, Mike Edwards, Eric Gordon and Nyshier Oliver were rated four-star prospects by last winter, and all are living up to their billing. Rogan is especially impressed with one of them.

"I don't mean to point out one guy," he said, "but Janzen is real aggressive, and that should help out a lot."

Tennessee's increased emphasis on aggressive play in the secondary suits All-America strong safety Eric Berry just fine. The 5-11, 205-pounder covers like a cornerback and hits like a linebacker, so he's an ideal fit for the new scheme.

"We play a lot of bump-and-run, a lot of press coverage," Berry noted. "Coach (Garza) tells us to trust our technique. He'll call a certain coverage and if something (bad) happens, he'll say it's on him. We have no excuse to not do what he says."

Garza relishes the emphasis on aggressive play in the secondary but says it comes straight from the Vols' defensive coordinator.

"That's Coach Monte Kiffin's style," Garza said. "He likes man coverage but he likes to mix it up. I love man coverage and Coach Monte Kiffin loves man coverage but you've got to have the people to do it. We feel like we've got a chance to have the people to play man coverage but we've got a very diverse package. That's why he's been very successful as a defensive coordinator."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories