Tennessee Football: Projecting Vols' 2014 Depth Chart on Defense
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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