During the spring, all ears were open for any news that would reveal whether Tennessee's defensive superstar was coming back. HC Derek Dooley was quick to say that the team would be proceeding as if Janzen Jackson would not return, but he would leave the door open should he come back.
Now that Jackson has departed for McNeese State, all of the speculation and waiting is over. So, it's time to start it right back up again. Can the Vol defense survive without Janzen Jackson?
With everybody in place, the secondary health would not seem so unstable, but with the departure of freshman safety Pat Martin, it opens up a new challenge for the Vols' secondary depth. The only consolation is Dooley will be able to sign one extra player in January.
Although Martin wasn't seen as potentially getting early playing time, it still means there are two holes to plug the secondary depth. So who plugs them? Again Martin was never fully in the picture, so the scope of the hardship falls on Jackson's absence.
So what does it mean for DC Justin Wilcox? For one he will have to employ that 4-3 defense again, and probably won't have the option to use that 4-2-5 nickel he could have used with Janzen Jackson slotted as a nickle-back. It does negate that extra look, but they were already planning on doing that to begin with....so it's not like they weren't prepared.
Yes, Jackson could have been the catalyst in a few close games, but No. 2 depth-chart CBs Art Evans or Izauea Lanier will just have to step up and fill that role. That is, of course, providing Wilcox gets desperate enough to utilize the nickel.
Is anyone close to the level of talent that Jackson was? Of course Prentiss Waggner is beyond criticism at this point, but he is needed in that safety position to secure the deep zones, Brent Brewer is literally a head hunter, but he sometimes gets preoccupied landing nasties and forgets the possibilities of a run.
Nobody will expect Justin Coleman to be anything except competent, but Marsalis Teague on the other hand is really the man who will have to shoulder a lot of Jackson's responsibilities.
Last season he was the team's No. 8 tackler and didn't get anywhere near close enough to bring in an interception, but he did miss two games after jamming his toe against Bama. Had he not been injured, he could have at least passed Eric Gordon as the No. 7 tackler just behind Malik Jackson.
And, no that does not qualify him as the torchbearer for J.Jackson, but it does point out that he is at least capable of turning in a better performance this season.
That is really all the defense can do is perform better. If it means using 4-3 or a 46 defense, then so be it, you use what you have. If DC Justin Wilcox can utilize those brand new shiny LBs the way he wants to, it shouldn't be an issue...save for the tougher SEC opponents, which makes up half the schedule. So what will Dooley do should the secondary crumble?
Would he try to move Curt Maggitt to CB if the LB corp gets healthy? My bet is no, but then again Marsalis Teague started his career at Tennessee as receiver too. Whatever happens there are now considerably fewer choices, but I'm sure the Vol staff already knows that.