Blake Morgan/ SEC Country
Tennessee nickle back Rashann Gaulden catches a pass during practice.

Tennessee football will use Rashaan Gaulden regardless of defensive formation in season opener

Rashann Gaulden playing his best football

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The hard hits will have to come from nickelback Rashaan Gaulden with no Derek Barnett or Cam Sutton lining up on the Tennessee defense this season.

Gaulden proved he could make plays as a sophomore last season. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said Thursday at a media availability Gaulden has improved his play from last season.

“He’s had an excellent camp,” Shoop said. “Probably playing the best football I’ve seen him play.”

RELATED: Why Tennessee defense expects better results in Year 2 in Bob Shoop’s scheme

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Gaulden from Spring Hill, Tenn., played in all 13 games in 2016, starting nine. He finished with 68 tackles, 6 for a loss and 4 pass breakups.

Gaulden sat out the spring because of a surgical shoulder procedure. Having Gaulden back on the field and playing his best football is a positive for the Vols.

Tennessee’s season-opening opponent, Georgia Tech, runs a triple-option offense with a heavy emphasis on the run. The Vols will likely use more of a base defense with three linebackers on the field to counter the amount of rushing attempts.

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Shoop said the possibility of taking the nickleback position off the field won’t necessarily mean taking Gaulden off the field.

“Certainly, one of the things you want to do as a coach is put your best players on the field,” Shoop said. “Rashaan, we feel, is one of our best players. So, we have a plan to play him.”

Gaulden could line up at one of the safety positions. He might be used as a linebacker/safety hybrid position against Georgia Tech on Sept. 4.

The Tennessee coaching staff has a plan for how it will deploy Gaulden, but don’t expect any hints from Shoop.

“You’ll have to watch,” Shoop said.

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