Leading into the 2011 season, Prentiss Waggner could be found on many award watch lists and preseason all-conference teams. However, the same can’t be said for the defensive back heading into his senior season.
The Clinton, Louisiana native had a fantastic sophomore season. He tied for the team lead with five interceptions and for the conference lead with three fumble recoveries. On top of that, he led the country and broke the Tennessee single-season record with three interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Expectations were obviously high heading into last season. Waggner appeared on the preseason watch lists for the Thorpe, Bednarik, Nagurski and Lott Awards. However the numbers didn’t follow. Waggner didn’t have a bad season, but his numbers didn’t match the previous season. He did lead the team in passes broken up and passes defended.
Waggner spent much of the 2011 season bouncing between cornerback and safety, starting six games at each position. Cornerback is his natural position, but the Vols have needed him more at safety. Because of that, his production has suffered.
With Brian Randolph firmly planted at one safety position and Brent Brewer on track to return to his starting role at strong safety, Waggner should be able to slide back into his natural position. That makes the Vols’ secondary exponentially better. However, it only works as long as the other members can stay healthy.
The Vols defense isn’t the unit that will get the most publicity during the 2012 season. However, they hold one of the major keys this year in Knoxville. Having Waggner anchoring a veteran secondary will assure the Vols a sold back end defensively.
Most people are sure the Vols will score points in 2012, but questions remain on if they can stop anyone. If they can, it could be a better-than-advertised season in Knoxville.