KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Butch Jones hired Bob Shoop and, according to Shoop, “just said do whatever you need to do.”
Shoop still is working on that as he looks to improve a unit that ranked No. 36 in the nation in total defense and No. 47 against the pass last season.
The size and speed of the Vols’ defensive players indicates it’s a unit built to stop spread offenses and mobile quarterbacks.
“I think we’ve recruited for that type of team and program,” Shoop said, “and the thing I like about the back end, I’ve been asked a couple times about different guys and positions, it’s really about getting the best on the field.”
Jones said the defense gave up too many big plays in Saturday’s scrimmage, and Shoop is sure to work on that immediately.
Looking at the secondary, where Shoop spends a great deal of time mentoring safeties, it appears the Vols are strong.
Certainly, secondary coach Willie Martinez thinks so, as evidenced by his tweet on Wednesday.
— Willie Martinez (@UTCoachMartinez) August 17, 2016
“Todd Kelly is a guy who has played a lot of football,” Shoop said. “You can coach a lot of years and not have had guys that have six interceptions in their first two years.”
Kelly looks set at one safety, while all indications have been that Micah Abernathy will start beside him.
Evan Berry has worked behind Kelly in drills, while true freshman Nigel Warrior looks like he’ll get playing time behind Abernathy and in certain packages.
Jones said Rashaan Gaulden and Malik Foreman are locked in a battle for nickleback duties, but again, Shoop has said he will play several players in the defensive backfield.
Senior captain Cameron Sutton is a sure thing at one cornerback position, while Emmanuel Moseley currently ia working with the ones on the other side.
Tennessee has plenty of talent in reserve.
Shoop said Stephen Griffin has had a good fall camp with the safeties, and true freshman Baylen Buchanan has earned praise and could be the third cornerback ahead of Justin Martin and Marquill Osborne.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee football for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.