Seniors: Todd Kelly Jr., Micah Abernathy
Juniors: Nigel Warrior
Sophomores: Maleik Gray, Theo Jackson
Safety is one of the few positions on Tennessee’s roster that likely won’t see a huge upheaval. It’s one of the most experienced units on the roster, and there’s a decent amount of talent at the position as well.
Todd Kelly Jr. returns for a fifth year after an injury-riddled 2017 kept him from making an impact. If he can remain healthy, he should be able to contribute a lot in Tennessee’s new defensive scheme.
But TK Jr. won’t have a starting spot just handed to him. He’ll have plenty of competition this spring and fall.
Micah Abernathy was a solid contributor for the Vols last season, totaling 81 tackles, one tackle for loss, two passes defended, and a fumble recovery. Abernathy is the most experienced player in the unit, and he should be an anchor and prove himself in the spring.
The name that will garner the most attention at safety is, of course, Nigel Warrior. There weren’t many bright spots on Tennessee’s defense last season, but Warrior was one of them, totaling 83 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, four passes defended, an interception (that he returned for a touchdown), three forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Warrior should be able to thrive in the Vols’ new defense, and expect him to come out ready to show off his toughness and tenacity.
Tennessee has two rising sophomores at the position who will provide solid depth as well. Maleik Gray appeared in two games but didn’t register any stats last year, and Theo Jackson played mostly on special teams and totaled eight tackles. Both likely won’t crack the starting spots in the fall, but they’ll need to prove to the new coaching staff that they belong at the position.
All in all, this unit has some intriguing options and one of Tennessee’s biggest defensive play-makers in Nigel Warrior. Both sophomores have more questions than answers, and TK Jr.’s health will be something to monitor. But safety could be a strength for the Vols this season. We’ll see how the unit starts out in the spring.
Projected Initial Depth Chart:
Abernathy and Warrior will likely be the top two safeties after spring, but TK Jr. could certainly throw a wrench into that. Gray and Jackson will be the backups, but anything could happen in the spring with a new coaching staff.