Waggner watch

Watching Tennessee's defense in practice, one Vol doesn't see a bunch of experience. But he sees a bunch of something he thinks will be a great equalizer this fall.

"We have a lot of speed - with the secondary, with the D-line and with the linebackers," sophomore safety Prentiss Waggner said this week. "We've got a lot of energy out there. We probably don't know what we're doing all the time yet - there's still a lot of questions - but we're running to that ball and hitting."

Running and hitting can overcome a lot of shortcomings. Whether that can overcome the UT defense's glaring lack of experience remains to be seen. Waggner, a 6-2, 181-pound sophomore, thinks it can. He believes the glut of open positions has the Vols motivated to give their all this spring.

"Everybody's wide open this spring," he said. "Ain't nobody getting tight. We're just in the film room and getting out on the field. We're up for the part this spring."

Things are especially "wide open" in the secondary, since juniors Eric Berry and Dennis Rogan elected to declare for the NFL Draft and skip their senior seasons of eligibility.

"It's opened up a lot of things this spring," Waggner conceded. "It's going to be tough (to win a job) because there's a lot of competition back there in the secondary. All of us are friends, so there's a lot of competition and we're all out there to get work."

Now that Berry and Rogan are gone, what once projected to be one of the SEC's better secondaries now appears a bit suspect.

"Right now people are probably thinking there's going to be a drop-off in the secondary," Waggner said, "but we got a lot of talent back there and we're just waiting to show it."

After learning from secondary coach Larry Slade while redshirting in 2008, Waggner played sparingly last fall under Willie Mack Garza, finishing with 4 tackles and 2 assists. Now he's toiling under his third DB coach in three years, Terry Joseph.

"We love him, man," Waggner said. "He has a ton of energy. He knows what he's talking about. He tells us why we should be in this place or why we shouldn't do this. He's a players' coach."

Waggner is battling fellow sophomore Darren Myles for the safety spot opposite returning starter Janzen Jackson this spring. Waggner believes he has the edge as a pass defender but concedes that Myles has the advantage as a run stuffer.

"I would say I can cover a lot more field and I've got better coverage ability than Darren," he said. "He's got coverage ability, too, and he can hit. He can lay that blow. Basically, he's a bigger guy (6-1, 190) and he's a lot more physical than I am right now."

Oddly enough, both safeties are Louisiana natives. Myles was born in New Orleans before growing up in Atlanta. Waggner was born and reared in Clinton, La.

"It's something in the water down there," Waggner quipped.

New head coach Derek Dooley believes the battle between Myles and Waggner is going to be an interesting one.

"Prentiss is an athletic guy," the coach said. "Both of them bring very different skill sets. I think we'll play it out. The thing about defensive back is, you play so much nickel - and even dime - that you need five or six really good players back there."

That's especially true now that Justin Wilcox is coordinating the Big Orange defense. He often utilized a 4-2-5 alignment during his stint at Boise State, and is expected to do the same at Tennessee.

"You've got to have a lot of cover guys," Dooley explained, "then they've got to be able to tackle in space, especially in the nickel and dime positions, where you're really a linebacker. Those body types that can do that are hard to find."

Ever the optimist, Waggner believes the Vol secondary has everything - including the right body types - needed to be plenty successful.

"I'm ready for a big spring - not just for me but all of the DBs," he said. "We're looking for a big spring, a big fall camp and hopefully it'll roll over into the season and we'll make big plays."

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