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May 21, 2012

A look at the secondary

Tennessee's new defensive system under first-year coordinator Sal Sunseri is built around aggressive play including a lot of man to man and blitzing from the secondary. From a numbers standpoint, Sunseri's defensive backfield has some depth. But throughout spring practice head coach Derek Dooley called them a collection of guys as the staff tried to sort out a pecking order for the defensive backfield. Today we enter our last week of our team breakdown series with a look at the secondary.

Breaking down the DB's:
Starter: Prentiss Waggner, 6-2, 180, SR

Improved: Clearly more comfortable as a cornerback and it showed in the spring despite the contact limitations. Waggner also showed the instincts you would expect froma veteran.

Summer target: Get shoulder 100-percent and work on quickness.

Starter: Izauea Lanier, 6-1, 190, JR

Improved: Was a more consistent player giving up fewer big plays while playing aggressively.

Summer target: Improve his commitment to be a quality player both on and off the field.

Starter: Brian Randolph, 6-0, 190, SO

Improved: Was more instinctive and he played faster.

Summer target: Add strength and weight.

Starter: Brent Brewer, 6-1, 217, JR

Improved: Limited all spring recovering from off-season surgery, got no contact work.

Summer target: Get his knee 100-percent and to manage his weight.

Backups: Justin Coleman, Byron Moore, Marsalis Teague, Eric Gordon, Rod Wilks, Gerald Orta, Tino Thomas

Improved: Coleman - played with more confidence and was more consistent giving up fewer big plays; Moore - settled in at safety and played faster and more instinctive; Teague - continued to be steady and in the right play; Gordon - focus was better with a change in scenery coaching wise; Wilks - gained a lot of experience and played faster in the spring; Orta - got his first physical work after shoulder injury sidelined him last season; Thomas - newcomer who arrived in January.

Summer target: Coleman - get stronger, use hands better in press coverage; Moore - become more instinctive and see things happening quicker; Teague - must adjust to new defensive style of aggressive play at the corner position; Gordon - improve consistency by being more sound schematically; Wilks - improve quickness and become a better playmaker; Orta - must get stronger, play more physical and develop better instincts at this level; Thomas - continue to get stronger and to become more comfortable in the Vols new defensive system.

Prentiss Waggner - The senior from Louisiana spent last year playing safety. This season the goal is to play him at cornerback. Waggner, who's not the most physical player, is more comfortable as a corner compared to a safety. Waggner was limited in the spring after off-season shoulder surgery. But Waggner got enough work on his instincts as a corner and showed that it's a more natural position for him. Waggner is not necessarily an elite athlete and there are faster corners on the roster, but because of his instincts Waggner is a very effective corner. His goal for the summer is to continue to improve his quickness.

Izauea Lanier - The junior college transfer brings the kind of size to the cornerback position that all coaches want. Lanier progressed well throughout the fall earning more and more playing time as he got into shape and adjusted to the level of SEC play. Lanier is also a lot of what coaches are looking for mentally because of his ability to forget about bad play and remain aggressive. Lanier was more consistent in the spring which was a big step for him. His challenge this summer is to continue to improve his commitment to the game both on and off the field.

Justin Coleman - As a true freshman, Coleman had plenty of ups and downs. Coleman started the first to games of the season then primarily watched from the sidelines recording just 1 tackle over the next six games. Coleman struggled in giving up the big play. In the spring, he was more consistent overall but still did give up some big plays as he adjusted the the aggressive style of Sal Sunseri. Coleman's spring was big for his confidence as he left spring getting plenty of first team reps and making more plays. This summer Coleman's challenge is to be more physical by getting stronger in the weight room and by learning to use his hands more particularly in press coverage.

Brian Randolph - The sophomore's baptism by fire as a freshman last year is paying dividends after creating growing pains last fall. Randolph did more than just survive last season as he racked up 55 tackles including one for loss, and two pass deflections. As Randolph got more comfortable his production went up as Randolph had 20 tackles in the last three games. This spring Randolph built off his freshman year by playing more instinctively and playing faster. This summer Randolph's biggest challenge is more physical than mental. At 189 pounds, Randolph needs to add some weight and some strength.

Byron Moore - After arriving overweight and out of shape last summer and spending much of the pre-season bouncing between safety and cornerback, Moore's production last fall was limited and was primarily on special teams. Moore did play more the last month of the season and this spring, the California native really settled in. Moore's weight at 200 pounds is where it's supposed to be and with a single focus on safety, Moore was much improved in the spring. This summer, Moore's focus is on becoming more instinctive as a safety.

Brent Brewer - Coming off ACL surgery, Brewer started spring as a linebacker but was moved back to safety for the last two thirds of spring practice. Head coach Derek Dooley said the move back to safety was to let Brewer get more work in the spring because the position of safety is not as physical as linebacker and Brewer was limited contact wise. But Brewer left spring as a safety and is expected to be a safety when fall camp opens. The focus this spring for Brewer was to try and continue to play better in open space and to recognize plays better. This summer Brewer's challenge is to get his knee 100 percent and to manage his weight. Brewer mentioned during spring practice that it's much easier for him to add weight than to manage it at his safety size of 205 pounds or so.

Marsalis Teague - The senior is entering is third year as a cornerback after playing his freshman season at receiver. Teague will also enter fall camp bracketed as a starter with Waggner. Teague was steady in the spring, but still isn't overly aggressive at at times isn't very instinctive. Teague must be aggressive if he's going to play in Sunseri's system and that's his challenge this summer. The Jackson native must play more aggressively and tighter coverage in Sunseri's system. This defense doesn't seem to have the approach of just keeping the guy in front of you.

Eric Gordon - If there's one lack of concern with Gordon it's his aggressive play. Gordon doesn't lack for confidence and he doesn't like for trying to play tight, physical man to man defense. The challenge of scenery coaching wise was very beneficial for the Nashville native as he certainly needed a new start. Gordon spent the spring working mostly as the nickel back, a position he said he loves due to it's ability to play aggressively and more freely. Gordon continued to make plays in the spring and left with a lot of personal confidence. His challenge this summer is to be more schematically sound to that he can earn more of the trust of the coaches.

Rod Wilks - Wilks got his most extensive work as he opened spring practice as the starter at strong safety. Wilks didn't run away with the job by any means, but he did show that he can help the defense in certain situations and he will play more on defense this season than he has in the past. Wilks has some limitations when it comes to playing in open space as well as his coverage of receivers. This summer, Wilks needs to get a little quicker and mentally he has to be fundamentally better scheme wise.

Geraldo Orta - After missing all last season with a shoulder injury Orta got his first contact work in college in the spring. And he still has plenty to learn not just about the scheme and about playing more instinctive. Orta's greatest strength is that he can run. Now he has to make that his advantage. Physically this summer Orta needs to get stronger especially in his upper body. Orta also must study a lot of film to try and be a more instinctive player.

Tino Thomas - Thomas sat in Memphis all last fall grayshirting. And after moving in back in January, Thomas got his first football work on his career during spring practice. Like Orta, Thomas can run, but Thomas will certainly line up and try to run someone over. As the Vols hit the summer, Thomas must mentally be more sound with the scheme and play more instinctive which comes with scrimmages and games.

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