KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee currently has only one player with a realistic chance of making All-SEC first team.
The leader of the defense this season has been cornerback Rashaan Gaulden, who continues to make plays for the Vols.
Tennessee’s defense might have struggled at times in the 15-9 South Carolina loss on Saturday, but Gaulden led the team in tackles with 10, including 1 tackle for loss.
Gaulden’s strong play is evident to anyone who watches him play, according to defensive backs coach Charlton Warren during media availability Monday.
“He’s playing at a really high level for us,” Warren said. “We are going to need to lean on his and others’ leadership in our style of play down the stretch here. So far, he’s having a very productive year. We as a whole unit have to make more plays and get more takeaways.
“When you turn on the tape, no matter who is watching, you know where 7 is on the field.”
Despite the loss – Tennessee CB Rashaan Gaulden locked down South Carolina receivers all game long.
2 receptions on 5 targets for 4 yards. pic.twitter.com/ssOgPRtG75
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 14, 2017
Gaulden has 40 tackles on the season (3 for loss). He had a forced fumble against Georgia Tech in the season opener and an interception against Florida.
The redshirt junior plays almost exclusively at nickel back. A decade ago, the nickle back was typically just a leftover corner. But with the rise of spread offenses, teams need players they can rely on at the position.
“With the evolution of football and spread teams, with teams sometimes putting their best guys in the slot position, it has become a very specialized position,” Warren said. “You have to be able to hit and blitz like a linebacker, cover like a corner and have the defensive knowledge of a safety.
“I think a guy like Gaulden, who has played corner, nickel, safety and dime, is tailor-made for that. He is a savvy football player and is going to be all over the field, and he has coverage skills.”
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has used Gaulden in creative blitzes to keep defensives off balance. His pass-rushing ability and coverage skills make him a tough player for opposing teams to account for.
Warren had a simple answer when asked about how the team views Gaulden.
“As a playmaker.”