Versatility is what first-year Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop wants his defensive secondary to be about.
“I’m excited,” Shoop said of his personnel, “because I feel like it will give us the opportunity to play some unique packages.”
The versatility doesn’t come by choice. With two safeties lost from last year, there is no option but to change. So far, junior Todd Kelly Jr., and sophomore Stephen Griffin are competing at free safety position while sophomores Rashaan Gaulden and Micah Abernathy are competing at the strong safety. None want to be typecast.
“You don’t want to be classified as a box safety or a centerfielder,” Shoop said.
Shoop is looking for a traditional free safety who can roam in the middle of the field. He’d also like to find a strong safety who hits like a linebacker. However, what Shoop want most is to have two safeties that can act as both.
“They’ve all been trained in both positions and the best two would play no matter what,” Shoop said. “I don’t really want to play left and right (safeties) and we’re not right now. They have the ability to play either position.”
At cornerback, Shoop seems content with the parts in place, most notably Cameron Sutton, who decided to return to Tennessee after considering forgoing his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL.
“The best thing about our recruiting class is we signed out top free agent, Cameron Sutton,” Shoop said. “He’s just a pro.”
That position is a given. The other side is a little bit more questionable. Cornerbacks Justin Martin and Emmanuel Mosley battled for playing time all last season. That seems to be continuing.
“Justin Martin has the length everybody is looking for,” Shoop said. “Emmanuel Moseley has continued to improve since he got here and looks like he has a chance to take the next step as an SEC player.”
Shoop also has another defensive back position to concentrate on, as the Vols often utilize a nickel package.
“Really the guy who has been the most consistent and most productive player through the first five practices has been Malik Foreman as the nickel,” Shoop said. “He made a great play on a blitz, knocking down a pitch, which I think we turned into a fumble recovery for a touchdown.”
The Vols hope to take another step on Saturday when they practice in Neyland Stadium. There will be much more contact than previous practices. Saturday will be much more like a scrimmage than anytime before. Shoop said Tennessee’s coaches showed the Vols video of the movie “The Longest Yard” in order to incite the intensity that is expected.
“I’m hoping when they get in Neyland Stadium, they can just play,” Shoop said. “Take the fundamentals and techniques and practices that we’ve put in…We’re not going to put in anything new. We’re not going to scheme the offense. We’re going to run our defense and they’re going to run their offense.
“Go out and execute like you have through the first five practices.”