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Tennessee Football: Projecting Vols' 2014 Depth Chart on Defense

Daniel HudsonCorrespondent IIIFebruary 24, 2014

Tennessee Football: Projecting Vols' 2014 Depth Chart on Defense

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    Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    The Tennessee Volunteers 2014 defense features a brand-new defensive line, bona fide stars at linebacker and plenty of experience in the secondary. If this group can stay healthy and the line can grow up quickly, the defense could very well become a strength this fall. Here's how I see the depth chart shaking out.

    Like virtually every other position on the team, the defensive depth chart is full of questions, youth and talent. It's an interesting but confusing combination. Staying healthy is imperative and the two-bye 2014 season will be a big help in that.

    This article has a sister here.

End

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    First string: Corey Vereen, Jordan Williams

    Second string: LaTroy Lewis, Jaylen Miller

    Like the offensive line, the 2014 Tennessee defensive line has to be completely rebuilt. However, unlike the offensive line, there aren't a lot of major holes to fill. Last year's squad played hard but rarely put together a string of consistent performances.

    Vereen is a pass-rushing machine but needs to show he can be on the field every down. Williams is the lone senior with any sort of playing experience, so he also gets the nod. Behind them are two virtual unknowns in Lewis and Miller, but don't be surprised to see some of Butch Jones' talented freshmen get in there.

Tackle

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    Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

    First string: Danny O'Brien, Trevarris Saulsberry

    Second string: Owen Williams, Jason Carr

    O'Brien is the only tackle who saw action in all 12 games last year, so he's certainly on the inside track to a starting job. Saulsberry was starting to find favor in the eyes of the coaching staff before an injury at Oregon took away half his season.

    JUCO transfer Williams could press Saulsberry for time and could win the starting job. Frankly, anyone outside of O'Brien is fighting for a starting spot. Carr was a recruiting coup from Memphis last offseason and cracked the lineup a handful of times last year. Look for him to see increased usage.

Linebacker

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    First string: A.J. Johnson, Curt Maggitt, Chris Weatherd

    Second string: Jakob Johnson, Dillon Bates, Justin King

    It is slim pickings after the first three linebackers for the 2014 Vols. A.J. Johnson and Maggitt are proven starters, the latter of which needs to make his mark after sitting out all of 2013. JUCO transfer Weatherd is a key addition and will likely come right in and start.

    But after these three upperclassmen, Tennessee is left with names like Taylor Spivey and Greg Grieco. Thus, it's the future that backs the starters up. Jakob Johnson has been called an "alpha male" by Butch Jones, one of the coolest compliments to date by the head coach. The last alpha male linebacker I remember was Al Wilson.

    Bates has football blood and a passion for Rocky Top. But as talented as these two and other youngsters are, fans should hope for a healthy season from the starters.

Cornerback

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    Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

    First string: Justin Coleman, Cam Sutton

    Second string: Riyahd Jones, Jaron Toney

    Through two defensive units, we've seen a total of two returning starts. In the cornerbacks alone, we match that total. The 2014 secondary provides the defense with both talent and experience.

    Coleman is far from a stellar, lockdown corner but has played well for three years in Knoxville. The senior will look to continue starting every game, just like his junior season. Sutton was a great surprise as a true freshman starter last year. Now, he has a powerful combination of youth and experience.

    There is a lot of young talent behind the starters. Devaun Swafford, Lemond Johnson and Malik Foreman are all names we know, but joining them are freshmen D'Andre Payne, Emmanuel Moseley, Todd Kelly, the Berry twins and more.

Safety

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    Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

    First string: LaDarrell McNeil, Brian Randolph

    Second string: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Todd Kelly

    It's good to see experience returning in the secondary again. Along with the cornerbacks, both starting safeties return this fall.

    McNeil and Randolph are shoo-ins and quite good ones at that. Reeves-Maybin is a highly athletic and versatile player who took every advantage last year on special teams to make a statement. Kelly will likely get opportunities for playing time, while not having to shoulder the entire load.

Defensive Summary

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    Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

    Defensive Summary

    End No. 1: (1) Corey Vereen, (2) LaTroy Lewis

    End No. 2: (1) Jordan Williams, (2) Jaylen Miller

    Tackle No. 1: (1) Danny O'Brien, (2) Owen Williams

    Tackle No. 2: (1) Trevarris Saulsberry, (2) Jason Carr

    Linebacker No. 1: (1) A.J. Johnson, (2) Jakob Johnson

    Linebacker No. 2: (1) Curt Maggitt, (2) Dillon Bates

    Linebacker No. 3: (1) Chris Weatherd, (2) Justin King

    Cornerback No. 1: (1) Justin Coleman, (2) Riyahd Jones

    Cornerback No. 2: (1) Cam Sutton, (2) Jaron Toney

    Safety No. 1: (1) LaDarrell McNeil, (2) Jalen Reeves-Maybin

    Safety No. 2: (1) Brian Randolph, (2) Todd Kelly

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