Position battles continue for Vols

Published 2:55 pm Thursday, August 17, 2023

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Ongoing position battles and roster development have been the story in the third week of practice for Tennessee.

In UT’s defensive back room, numerous veteran players have gained valuable, in-game reps that they will lean on this season. Tennessee returns nine DBs from last year’s squad with starting experience, including all five starters from UT’s decisive Orange Bowl victory over No. 7 Clemson.

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Assistant coach Willie Martinez met with the media Tuesday and discussed the benefits of the depth and experience at defensive back as well as the development of the room’s young players.

“Having depth at the back end is very important, because I don’t think you can go through a whole season with just five guys playing,” Martinez said. “(Injuries) happen and this league is way too good, so the more players that have experience and have proven it on the field gives you a chance to be more consistent as a secondary.”

Martinez also weighed in on the detail-oriented approach of his veterans that will pay dividends when the season kicks off.

“Seeing the small things in practice, doing the things that matter, the fundamentals, the technique, the footwork that needs to happen on a third down or a fourth down. If you can show it consistently in the practice, then it will show up on game day. That is where the experience comes in that I was speaking earlier about.”

Tuesday’s availabilities also featured four returning players from the secondary. When asked which younger DBs have stood out so far in camp, redshirt senior Warren Burrell had praise for three freshman corners and their growth over the past two weeks.

“This is one of those situations where it’s hard to pick one. These young guys came in ready to play. These guys, you can tell they love football, you can tell they appreciate the experience, they want to be better. They want to be the best that they can be. Those guys, Rickey (Gibson III), Jordan (Matthews), Cristian (Conyer), that’s just the corners, but there is way more. Those guys who I’m going to speak to, they’ve been taking every day and growing, learning in every way possible. They’ve been trying to turn their weaknesses into strengths. They really just have been learning what it’s like to be a DB at the University of Tennessee. The standard that we’re trying to set, that we’re trying to create here, those guys are doing nothing but pushing us forward, so we appreciate them.”

The Vols held their second and final scrimmage of fall camp Wednesday, which was closed to the public and the media.

Tennessee opens the season against Virginia on Sept. 2 in Nashville.