Tennessee spent the bye week getting back to the basic fundamentals of football in the midst of its three-game losing streak. Jeremy Pruitt also used the week off to move some young players around in an effort to possibly get them on the field.
One player who switched positions was true freshman defensive back Keshawn Lawrence. The Nashville is still in the secondary, but after working at safety and corner to begin his career, Lawrence worked at the STAR position over the bye week.
“We moved several guys around a little bit, especially in the secondary,” Pruitt told reporters over Zoom on Monday. “We moved Keshawn Lawrence to STAR and let him get some work there, just to see what he looks like at that position. He’s a guy that’s continued to work hard in practice. The guys in front of him at corner — you know, he hasn’t gotten a lot of opportunity there during the games, but we thought he played well.”
The STAR position in Jeremy Pruitt’s defense is also known as the nickleback. In Tennessee’s nickle package with five defensive backs on the field, the STAR is the defensive back that lines up in the middle of the field against the opponent’s slot receiver.
“In the games that he’s played in, he’s done pretty well, so we looked him at STAR just to get more production at that position. So he’ll possibly get an opportunity on Saturday.”
Tennessee has struggled mightily over the middle of the field this season, particularly at the STAR position. Shawn Shamburger missed the first two games of the season and hasn’t been good in the three games since his return. Shamburger has graded out at 60.1 to this point in the season according to Pro Football Focus, which ranks as a ‘below average starter’ on their scale.
Freshman Doneiko Slaughter who started in place of Shamburger early in the season graded out at 62.7.
Lawrence stepping in and playing well would be a huge boost to a Tennessee secondary that is giving up 254.0 passing yards per game, which ranks seventh in the SEC in passing defense. He signed with the Vols as the top-ranked player in the state of Tennessee according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Lawrence was ranked as the No. 81 overall player in the country and the sixth-best safety.
So far this season, Lawrence has seen action as a reserve and on special teams in all five games. He recorded his first two career tackles against No. 2 Alabama and made his Tennessee debut in the Vols’ season-opening victory over South Carolina.