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2019 Spring Position Preview: Defensive Backs

We get you ready for the start of spring practice for Tennessee’s football team with our position preview series. Up first is a look at the Vols’ secondary.

Seniors: Baylen Buchanan, Nigel Warrior

Juniors: Kenneth George Jr., Theo Jackson, Shawn Shamburger

Sophomores: Terrell Bailey, Brandon Davis, Trevon Flowers, Cheyenne Labruzza, Alontae Taylor, Bryce Thompson

Freshmen: Warren Burrell, Tyus Fields, Jaylen McCollough

Tennessee’s secondary last year was a fairly veteran-heavy group, especially at safety. As the season wore on, though, some of the younger players began to take over, and now UT’s defensive backfield is full of young talent looking to assert themselves this spring.

Just because the secondary is younger doesn’t mean it’s inexperienced, though.

The Vols return their two main starting cornerbacks this spring in rising sophomores Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson. Trevon Flowers also saw a lot of playing time at safety before his injury during Tennessee’s bye week last season, and both Theo Jackson and Shawn Shamburger have played a lot of snaps in their UT careers.

Tennessee only has two rising seniors in the secondary this spring, and both are returning starters. Nigel Warrior figures to be a starter at safety in the fall, and Baylen Buchanan will have to fight off some youngsters to hold down his nickel cornerback spot he played at last season.

The big storyline for UT’s secondary in the spring is the arrival of three early enrollees from the Vols’ 2019 signing class. Four-star safety Jaylen McCollough, four-star cornerback/safety Tyus Fields, and three-star cornerback Warren Burrell will all get a leg up on the other freshmen coming in over the summer thanks to enrolling early. These three freshmen are talented enough to challenge the upperclassmen on the roster.

Another storyline to watch will be how the positions shake themselves out. Tennessee has a lot of versatility in the secondary, and it remains to be seen where some players will end up come fall.

Rising sophomore Brandon Davis practiced with both the cornerbacks and safeties last year, and rising redshirt sophomore Cheyenne Labruzza has never really seemed to find a home in the secondary so far. Shawn Shamburger has also played at cornerback and safety during his time at UT. The three freshmen are pretty versatile too, and Tyus Fields’ actual position will be interesting to watch. He could have a higher ceiling at safety than corner, but he also has a lot of promise as a nickelback.

Kenneth George Jr. was a junior college signee in the Vols’ 2018 class, but he was hurt for a large part of last season and never really saw the field because of that. Now that he appears to be healthy, can he make an impact on the two-deep?

Both Taylor and Thompson should have starting spots nailed down, and those two are the only for sure starters in the secondary right now. Nigel Warrior should have a starting spot after starting all 12 games last season, but he showed enough inconsistency at times last year for his starting job not to be guaranteed. Plus, with Jaylen McCollough coming in and with Trevon Flowers back and healthy, he’ll have some competition this spring.

The Vols have five positions to figure out in their defensive backfield, and two of them should be nailed down thanks to solid freshmen campaigns from Freshman All-American Bryce Thompson and Alontae Taylor. Nigel Warrior should have a third spot under wraps, but that remains to be seen.

That leaves the safety position opposite Warrior and the nickelback spot to figure out. Trevon Flowers is likely the favorite to land the starting safety spot alongside Warrior, and Buchanan is the incumbent at nickel. But he’ll have lots of competition at that spot, and Flowers isn’t guaranteed the starting safety position with some of the other players on UT’s roster, either.

Tennessee should have plenty of competition in the secondary this spring, and Jeremy Pruitt and Derrick Ansley have a lot of young talent to work with in this unit.

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