2019 Fall Camp Position Preview: Defensive Backs

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    Photo by Nathanael Rutherford/RTI

    We get you ready for the start of Tennessee’s 2019 fall camp by previewing the Vols’ roster position-by-position. First up is our look at Tennessee’s secondary group.

    Seniors: Baylen Buchanan, Nigel Warrior

    Juniors: Kenneth George Jr. (RS), Deangelo Gibbs, Theo Jackson, Shawn Shamburger

    Sophomores: Terrell Bailey (RS), Trevon Flowers, Maleik Gray (RS), Cheyenne Labruzza (RS), Alontae Taylor, Bryce Thompson

    Freshmen: Aaron Beasley, Warren Burrell, Brandon Davis (RS), Tyus Fields, Jaylen McCollough, Kenney Solomon

    Tennessee’s secondary might be the strongest, deepest group of the Vols’ defense heading into fall camp. With a pair of seniors leading the way and two young corners continuing to get even better, there’s a lot to like about UT’s group of defensive backs.

    The Vols threw true freshmen Alontae Taylor, Bryce Thompson, and Trevon Flowers into the fire last season, but they came out unscathed for the most part. Aside from an injury that stole over a month of the season away from Flowers, the trio of freshmen looked promising and made strides as the season progressed. In fact, Thompson had such a strong season that he was named a Freshman All-American.

    Taylor and Thompson should have their starting spots at the main cornerback positions nailed down. Flowers, however, will be fighting for a starting role.

    Senior Nigel Warrior will man one starting safety spot barring injury, but the opposite safety position is up for grabs. Flowers flashed plenty of potential early in the season last year, but a broken collarbone during UT’s bye week robbed him from capitalizing off his promising start. When he came back from his injury, he was limited mostly to special teams duty and minimal defensive work.

    Flowers is the odds-on favorite to start at safety alongside Warrior, but he’ll have competition from players like Theo Jackson and Brandon Davis along with freshmen Jaylen McCollough and Aaron Beasley.

    Tennessee’s secondary is more than just two cornerback spots and two safeties, though.

    The Vols implement a nickel corner fairly often, and they also have a “star” position in Jeremy Pruitt’s (now Derrick Ansley’s) defensive system. Baylen Buchanan played a lot in the nickel spot last year, but he’s far from guaranteed to keep that “starting” role as a senior. Veteran Shawn Shamburger and freshmen Warren Burrell and Tyus Fields will give him plenty of run for his money.

    Shamburger is also a candidate for the “star” position, as is Tyus Fields.

    There’s also the ongoing questions surrounding Deangelo Gibbs.

    Gibbs, a former four-star prospect who transferred from Georgia over the winter, started spring practices with the wide receivers, but he shifted to the secondary for the last half of the spring. Gibbs spent his two years with the Bulldogs as a defensive back, and now it’s looking more likely that he’ll stay on defense at UT.

    If Gibbs gets his immediate eligibility waiver approved by the NCAA, then he’ll probably stick around at defensive back. He played a lot of safety in the spring and could also man the “star” position. If that waiver request is denied, though, then a move back to wide receiver would make sense, allowing him to use the 2019 season as a redshirt year to learn more about being a wideout. With Tennessee losing four senior receivers after this season, they’ll need talented bodies with that unit.

    Another question facing this group is the status of Kenneth George Jr. heading into the fall. George was a JUCO transfer who was a late addition to UT’s 2018 class. He played sparingly before suffering a season-ending injury. But that’s not why he’s in question.

    George was arrested in Florida back in March during spring break after he violently resisted arrest and was charged with battery of a police officer among other charges.

    As of right now, George is still on UT’s official roster, and head coach Jeremy Pruitt hasn’t given an update on his status.

    Last year, the spotlight on Tennessee’s secondary was stolen by young players. This year could prove to have similar results.

    The Vols added five defensive backs to their roster in the 2019 signing class, and three of them — Jaylen McCollough, Tyus Fields, and Warren Burrell — were early enrollees and participated in the spring. McCollough especially stood out, and he seems the most obvious of the bunch to earn some early playing time. But don’t discount Aaron Beasley either, a talented two-way athlete out of Georgia. He shined as both a running back and safety in high school, and he’ll bring some added competition. Burrell figures to challenge at nickelback, too.

    All in all, Tennessee’s secondary has a lot of talent and even more upside and potential. There won’t likely be a lot of battles for starting jobs, but the depth chart in the two-deep could fluctuate a ton as fall camp — and the season itself — goes on.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.