KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee will have only two safeties on the field Monday night when the Vols play Georgia Tech, but that doesn’t faze any of the three players competing for those spots.
Tennessee lists sophomore Nigel Warrior ass the starting strong safety, and junior Micah Abernathy or senior Todd Kelly Jr. at free safety.
Abernathy said Thursday that no one in the group cares who takes the field first.
“We know it doesn’t really matter who is out there on the first snap,” he said. “They’ve preached that to us. We just know we have more than one or two starters back there and anybody can play at any time.”
The trio has competed for playing time throughout fall camp, and it appears that Warrior has taken complete control of the strong safety spot. The 6-foot, 194-pound defensive back played in 12 games and started one last season. He finished the season with 22 tackles.
Kelly has experience over Abernathy, but the coaching staff has praised Abernathy’s consistency.
The coaching staff wanted players competing at almost every position. Abernathy and Kelly fighting for playing time isn’t much different from previous seasons, though.
“It’s been regular competition,” Abernathy said. “We’ve really had competition there every year since I’ve been a freshman.”
Kelly has played in 38 games for the Vols, and the lights of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta likely won’t be too bright for him. Abernathy played in 12 games in 2016 and recorded 69 tackles.
Defensive backs coach Charlton Warren said the three likely won’t take the field at the same time Monday, but all will rotate plenty of plays.
“For the position they play, they’ve had great competition and they’ve all earned the right to play,” Warren said “We all have confidence in those guys. They’ve played a lot of football, especially TK and Micah. I think they’ve had a really consistent camp.
“They understand what we’re doing. They’re excited to play, obviously, and they’ve earned the right to go on the field and get some snaps.”
Tennessee will need all three to play well to slow down Georgia Tech’s offense.