Secondary surprises

When juniors Eric Berry and Dennis Rogan opted for the NFL Draft over their senior seasons, the experience level in Tennessee's secondary plummeted.

The expectation level has not.

First-year secondary coach Terry Joseph expects to assemble a top-notch defensive backfield this fall, even with Berry and Rogan joining the play-for-pay ranks.

"We still want to play good, physical defense," Joseph said. "Obviously, by losing those two guys, we need some other guys to step up."

Two redshirt freshmen already have - Nyshier Oliver and Eric Gordon.

"Oliver's been playing well, and Gordon's been coming along," Joseph said. "It's an opportunity for some young guys to get some reps. Expectations? In my mind, we're still going to be a top-notch secondary."

Each coach has a different perspective on which traits are most necessary for a quality defensive back. Joseph is no exception.

"When you're evaluating a defensive back at any level, I look for somebody who can cover man-to-man, play the deep ball and be able to tackle," he said. "That's the three things I tell my guys every day in practice we want to be able to do:

"We want to play man-to-man, because we want to be able to stop the run with our front guys, be able to hold up on deep balls and be able to make a good tackle in the open field. If you can do that, I think everything else will fall into place."

Despite a lack of experience among the defensive backs, Joseph likes what he is seeing from them this spring. He finds one attribute especially encouraging.

"The work ethic of the guys," he said. "The guys have been great. They've worked their tails off. We (new coaches) have come in and we've been hard but they've taken everything we've given them, as far as discipline and coaching and communication. They always come to work, and that's one of the most impressive things I can see, considering the last three months that they had to go through."

With Stephaun Raines missing practice to attend a funeral, Oliver worked with the No. 1 unit at cornerback in Tuesday's practice. Joseph says nothing is anywhere near settled at this point, however.

"It's too early to say who's pulling ahead of who," the Vol aide said. "Everybody will get balanced reps in the (Thursday) scrimmage, so we'll get in here on Friday, get it graded and probably start making some decisions."

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