Position rewind/preview: Secondary
Arguably no position coach did as much to stabilize a unit than what Willie Martinez did with the Vols' secondary, turning Justin Coleman into a linchpin in many ways at the nickel spot while continuing to develop Cam Sutton and others.
2014-15 REWIND/PREVIEW: THE SECONDARY
Volquest.com pre-season question: CAN THE SECONDARY BECOME PLAYMAKERS?
This group did in many ways emerge as a band of playmakers --- with the nucleus of those guys set to return in 2015. In addition to Coleman establishing his career-best with four picks while both Cam Sutton and Todd Kelly Jr. grabbed three apiece, with Kelly earning Freshman All-SEC accolades along the way.
Now the secondary returns many key pieces, with every member who started the bowl game except Coleman in position to return. Emmanuel Moseley was another play Martinez and the departed Terry Fair really helped evolve into a consistent contributor and starter by year's end. With Kelly pushing him, LaDarrell McNeil played the best ball of his career. Brian Randolph remains very steady.
If the group continues improving, plus with the impending addition of a guy like Justin Martin, among others, the secondary should be a strength on the Vols' defense moving forward.
This spring camp is a major audition at the nickel spot, and with D'Andre Payne having opted to return closer to home at Maryland, Rashaan Gaulden, who developed alongside Cortez McDowell as one of the Vols' top special teams players, should have an opportunity there.
[rl]5 Members of the Vols' secondary who recorded multiple interceptions during the 2014 season, a year after Tennessee had just two defensive backs notch at least two picks.
95 Career number of starts combined for Randolph, McNeil, Kelly, Sutton and Moseley heading into the 2015 season.
428 Combined career tackles between the veteran safety duo of McNeil and Randolph.
Eye towards spring:
There are some compelling storylines for this group as spring camp approaches. None, as we've outlined, is likely bigger than trying to identify a new nickelback to replace the graduated Coleman.
But that isn't the only one, what with Kelly Jr. and McNeil battling to start at safety opposite the entrenched Randolph. Kelly Jr. earned one start in 2014 but played quite extensively in several contests. Can Moseley become even more physical, matching his speed and athleticism, to gain even more coverage consistency and run support for the Vols? Who emerges as backups to help build competition for spring and depth moving forward?