Vol DB outlook

Tennessee's secondary prematurely lost five years of starting experience when three-year starter Eric Berry and two-year starter Dennis Rogan elected to bypass their senior seasons in favor of the recent NFL Draft.

That's a hit comparable to the one Berry put on Georgia's Knowshon Moreno between the hedges in 2008.

It doesn't take a Rhodes scholar to realize that no one player is going to fill the void left by Berry's departure. Perhaps several Vol defensive backs can elevate their play in 2010, however, helping to soften the blow a bit.

Two players who appear ready to do just that are sophomore safeties Janzen Jackson and Darren Myles.

Jackson (6-0, 187) started nine of the 10 games he participated in last fall, missing three due to suspension. He showed Berry-type savagery as a tackler and improved as a pass defender over the course of the season, finishing with 37 tackles, a fumble forced, 4 passes defended and an interception.

Myles played sparingly in 2009, recording 7 tackles and a pass breakup, but exhibited All-SEC potential in practices and scrimmages.

The post-spring practice depth chart shows Jackson first-team at free safety and Myles first-team at strong safety.

Jackson's chief backup is Prentiss Waggner, a 6-2, 181-pound redshirt sophomore who fits the "center fielder" mold at safety. He covers an awful lot of ground in the secondary but needs to become more physical in run support. Waggner played in all 13 games last fall, posting 6 tackles.

Myles' backups at strong safety - sophomore Rod Wilks (6-0, 211) and senior walk-on Tyler Wolf (5-11, 202) - finished spring practice bracketed as second-teamers. Both are better hitters than pass defenders.

Junior Art Evans (6-0, 185) returns as a starter at one cornerback spot after registering 39 tackles, 3 passes defended and 3 pass breakups in 2009. He was slowed by injury during spring practice, however, which allowed redshirt freshman Nyshier Oliver (5-11, 183) to get most of the first-team reps.

Another redshirt freshman, 5-10, 186-pound Eric Gordon, is the heir-apparent to Rogan as the other first-team cornerback, although he must hold off junior Anthony Anderson (6-0, 185) to keep the job. Anderson recorded 9 tackles, 3 passes defended and 3 pass breakups last season.

Juniors Stephaun Raines (5-10, 184) and C. J. Fleming (5-10, 173) also figure in the secondary mix. So do four players scheduled to join the team in August - 6-2, 190-pound junior college transfer Dave Clark of Independence (Kan.) Community College, along with freshmen Marcques Dixon (5-10, 192) of Decatur, Ga., Eddrick Lofton (6-0, 200) of Irving, Texas and Dontavis Sapp (6-3, 205) of Valdosta, Ga.

Several defensive backs performed well in spring scrimmages. Jackson recorded 2 tackles and an interception in the first. Waggner recorded 6 stops and an interception in the second. Gordon also had a big second scrimmage, registering 2 stops, a tackle for loss and three pass breakups.

Saving their best for last, Vol DBs stole the show in the Orange & White Game. Anderson made a statement with 7 tackles and an interception. Raines intercepted a pass and broke up two others. Myles recorded a pick and a PBU. Gordon chipped in 4 tackles.

Although Eric Berry will be sorely missed, there just might be enough overall talent that the secondary won't slip noticeably from 2009 to 2010.

Position outlook: OK, especially if juco transfer Clark can make immediate impact at safety.


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