published Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Vols seeking tighter corners

KNOXVILLE -- The game plan likely will stay the same, but the players who execute it could change.

It's been two tough games for Tennessee's cornerbacks, and with the Volunteers likely gearing up to stop another power running game, there could be more single coverage with the corners. The two-deep chart UT released Monday for Saturday's game at No. 2 Alabama had no changes, but Derek Dooley hinted there could be some coming in the secondary.

"We may not have a choice but to do that," the coach said at his weekly media luncheon. "We need to play better at the corner position. We need to play better, so we'll keep moving it around."

Marsalis Teague and Izauea Lanier have started the last three games at corner, where Art Evans and Justin Coleman also have started games this season. The mostly change would be sliding Prentiss Waggner from free safety to corner and inserting freshman Brian Randolph at free safety.

The 185-pound Waggner is a much better fit at corner, where he would have played this season had Janzen Jackson not been dismissed late in the preseason. Randolph, who was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Georgia last season, has played in six games with one start.

Georgia burned the Vols' corners over the top and missed on a couple of other long completions. LSU had success with short passes, including Rueben Randle's 45-yard catch-and-run that burned Teague and set up a field goal late in the first half of the Tigers' 38-7 win.

With the Tigers using more of a spread look with change-of-pace quarterback Jordan Jefferson, UT played in its nickel package, which sometimes plays Waggner at corner and Randolph at safety. The freshman made nine tackles.

"We put Prentiss out there in the game, and he does some things a lot better," Dooley said. "But then there's other things. It's getting a lot of snaps [and] Brian's got to handle the load at safety."

Change in rehab

The original plan didn't call for quarterback Tyler Bray to have surgery on his broken right thumb, but Dooley said Monday the sophomore had a plate put into the thumb in a procedure the coach called "not unexpected." Receiver Gerald Jones had a similar procedure last season.

"They have to let the swelling go down, and the plate is in only so the bone doesn't grow," Dooley said. "It doesn't heal crooked, if that makes sense. The plate's only to help the healing. The scar tissue heals, but it can move. If it moves, then it heals, then you've got a crooked thumb.

"We certainly don't want that with our quarterback."

The procedure will not affect Bray's timetable for a return, which is five to six weeks.

Another level

If there's a category above winning the Heisman Trophy as the nation's top player, then Alabama tailback Trent Richardson belongs in it by himself, at least in the opinion of UT middle linebacker Austin Johnson. The senior would go as far as to say Richardson is better than Mark Ingram, the Tide tailback who won the 2009 Heisman and was the New Orleans Saints' first-round draft pick in April.

"He's in a category in his own," Johnson said. "Trent Richardson might be the best back in the nation because he has all those tools: He's physical, he can move, he can pass-block. They're different backs, but Trent Richardson ... I think he brings a little bit more than what Mark Ingram did."

Richardson, who's just a junior, ran for a career-high 183 yards in Alabama's 52-7 win at Ole Miss last week. He ran for 119 yards and a score and added a touchdown catch against UT last year, when Ingram ran for 88 yards and two scores.

"He's physically imposing," Dooley said of Richardson. "He's been gifted physically. He's got an ability to play low to high, so he's always playing with power. He's always playing square to the goal line even though he's moving right to left."

Status updates

Hybrid back/receiver Rajion Neal, who had a 38-yard reception against LSU, is "showing some signs" in his conversion from tailback, Dooley said, though ball security remains a concern after the sophomore fumbled twice against Georgia. ... Da'Rick Rogers was the only wide receiver to catch any of Matt Simms' six completions against LSU, and Dooley said the production of the Vols' supporting cast at wideout "hadn't been like we hoped." ... Starting fullback Ben Bartholomew has earned his spot ahead of Channing Fugate, who, Dooley acknowledged, had "an unreasonable expectation" on him entering the season after a solid ending to his freshman year. ... UT's game against South Carolina in Knoxville on Oct. 29 will start at 7:15 p.m. and be televised by ESPN or ESPN2.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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