Tennessee safety Todd Kelly Jr has more experience than anyone else in the Vols’ secondary. And he’s using that wisdom to educate and challenge UT’s defensive backs in the midst of a wide open competition.
“I’m a veteran guy now,” Kelly told reporters on Friday. “Just learning what to do and what not to do, because I’ve learned over time seeing guys come and go. I’m bringing along those other guys who are also trying to compete for a job.”
New defensive backs coach Charlton Warren has created a competitive atmosphere in the secondary room. Kelly says that it’s been good for everyone to make specific improvements on the practice field.
“Everything we do is a competition,” Kelly stated. “Whether it’s making the first call in the meeting room, or the first to say what the route combination is going be. It’s all about burst and acceleration. We look at the end of the day to see who made the biggest hit and why they did it.”
It all starts with analytics. GPS tracks distance covered during practice. Each player knows their peak speed in miles per hour, and they can track how hard they are hitting from day to day.
But Kelly doesn’t need all of those statistics to monitor improvement. He says that it’s started with Rock Gullickson’s offseason plan in the weight room.
“Coach Rock has done a tremendous job implementing the Olympic lifts,” Kelly said. “Being in the college business for four years, I’m always interested in seeing how the weight room translates to the football field, and I think this time has been the biggest improvement.”
The senior safety is aware of the Vols’ injury troubles last season. Through Gullickson’s changes, he said everyone is doing a better job to prevent injuries.
“I think Coach Jones set up a program for us that’s NFL based,” Kelly added. “We base it off of the best of the best. Coach Jones knows what he’s doing.”
Part of being a leader is noticing talent from younger players and helping to develop it. And that’s what Kelly has seen with one of Tennessee’s young safeties.
Kelly has been impressed with sophomore safety Nigel Warrior, who the Vols are likely to rely heavily on this season. Warrior had a rough outing in Tennessee’s loss to South Carolina last season as a freshman, but Kelly says it doesn’t bother him.
“He’s good at having a short term memory,” Kelly said. “Because you can’t go out and play a perfect game, I don’t think anyone has in the 21 years I’ve watched football.
“When you make a mistake, you just have to learn from it and not do it again.”
Kelly and Warrior will see a lot of snaps side by side this season should Warrior wrestle away the starting job from junior Micah Abernathy. And the chemistry between both Kelly and Warrior has grown this offseason in preparation.
“When he lines up beside me, I trust him,” Kelly said of the sophomore. “I’m making sure we communicate. He’s come a long way, and I definitely trust him.”