Gone: DB Tino Thomas, CB JaRon Toney, S Byron Moore
Returning: CB Justin Coleman (Sr.), S Max Arnold (RS Jr.), DB Devaun Swafford (Soph.), S Brian Randolph (RS Jr.), S LaDarrell McNeil (Jr.), CB Riyahd Jones (Sr.), CB Malik Foreman (Soph.), CB Cam Sutton (Soph.), DB Geraldo Orta (RS Jr.), S Lemond Johnson (Soph.)
Newcomers: CB Emmanuel Moseley (Fr.), DB Elliott Berry (Fr.), DB Evan Berry (Fr.), S Todd Kelly Jr. (Fr.), S Cortez McDowell (Fr.), DB Rashaan Gaulden (Fr.), CB D’Andre Payne (Fr.)
Looking for position battles? The secondary will be full of them as camp gets underway for Tennessee on Friday.
We’ll start with what is fairly certain: Brian Randolph and Cam Sutton are virtual locks to hold down a safety and a cornerback position, respectively.
Consider those two the frame that the rest of the secondary can be built around. A few returning veterans will factor into the competition, but there will be plenty of spots up for grabs for the newcomers.
Returning starter Justin Coleman had his ups and downs in 2013 as one of the outside cornerbacks. He worked primarily as the starting nickelback in spring practice and could play any of the CB spots. Junior safety LaDarrell McNeil has seen extensive playing time in his first two seasons on campus as well. He can be penciled in at the strong safety spot, but he will be pushed.
Corner Malik Foreman, corner Riyahd Jones, nickel/safety Devaun Swafford, safety Lemond Johnson, safety Max Arnold and safety/nickel Geraldo Orta are all veterans battling for a spot on the two-deep and/or special teams reps.
Recruiting should help the secondary as much as any other position group on the team. The incoming freshmen bring size and speed that has been sorely lacking in recent years.
Speaking of speed, freshman Emmanuel Moseley should compete for one of the outside cornerback spots, a job he held through much of spring practice. The underrated recruit is already one of the fastest players on the team. And while he’s put on significant muscle since arriving at UT, his slight frame is the biggest question mark about him going forward.
Elliott Berry and Evan Berry give DBs coach Willie Martinez a ton of flexibility. Evan is starting out as an outside corner and could push Moseley this fall. Elliott is getting a look at nickelback to start out, though he could ultimately play corner, safety or outside linebacker. Rashaan Gaulden – a recruit the coaching staff is incredibly high on – also has the flexibility to play almost anywhere in the secondary. He’ll be a name to keep an eye on.
D’Andre Payne, who could play any of the corner spots, provides more speed and Todd Kelly Jr. and Cortez McDowell both have a shot to compete for playing time at safety.
Every newcomer in the secondary has a realistic chance to see the field against Utah State. It’ll be a work in progress, but this could be one of the most competitive and improved areas of the team. And with only Coleman and Jones expected to leave after 2014 – there’s a bright future ahead for this group.
Sutton on the arrival of the newcomers:
“It will bring a lot of competition, and that is what we are all about. We want to push each other to work harder, and if those guys are able to come in and compete and win those jobs, then they will play.”
By the Numbers
• Randolph: (UT career) 152 tackles, 4 INTs
• Coleman: (UT career) 115 tackles, INT, 4.5 TFLs
• Sutton: (UT career) 39 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFLs, 2 INTs
• McNeil: (UT career) 112 tackles, INT
• Swafford: (UT career) 17 tackles, FF, INT
Projected Initial Depth Chart
Sutton at one of the cornerback spots and Randolph at safety is about all that’s really safe to say at this point. You can pencil in McNeil at safety, Coleman at nickel and Moseley at the other corner spot as of now, but there could be a lot of moving pieces as camp progresses. All three of those spots are really more open competition than set in stone. Gaulden, Evan Berry, Cortez McDowell and Todd Kelly Jr. are names to really keep an eye on for potential early playing time.
With the influx of newcomers, a sophomore such as Johnson, Swafford or Foreman could take a redshirt after not being able to last year. It’s possible that one or two of the freshmen could take one as well, though it’s too early to say who it would be with so much open competition ahead.