KNOXVILLE — Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and secondary coach Charlton Warren issued high praise for Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm on Tuesday.
"There's so many good quarterbacks in the league right now," Shoop said. "He's right up there with any of them."
Fromm, though he'll be starting just his fourth game, may give the Volunteers' pass defense its toughest test of the season so far when Tennessee and Georgia meet at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
Shoop likened Fromm to former Georgia star Aaron Murray, a four-year starter (2010-13) for the Bulldogs who engineered four victories over the Vols.
"He finds the right receivers," Shoop said. "He makes good decisions. What we really need to do is get these guys in third-and-long and try to create some confusion and chaos in his mind and get the 12th man going in Neyland Stadium."
Georgia sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason is working back from an injury he suffered in Georgia's season-opening win over Appalachian State. The injury opened the door for Fromm, who was a prized recruit from Warner Robins, Ga.
In his first start, he led the Bulldogs to a 20-19 victory at Notre Dame.
"Probably a little wise beyond his years right now as a freshman," Warren said. "I've been really impressed with the way he's handled environments like going to Notre Dame and having to come in with sudden change and replace Eason in that (Appalachian State) game. I've been really impressed with him, and he's done a great job for them."
Tennessee's secondary has faced only one offense this year that Shoop considers "traditional." That was against Florida and quarterback Feleipe Franks, who struggled against the Vols before throwing a long game-winning touchdown pass on the final play.
Shoop described the matchup with Georgia as "a little scary" because of the height and speed of the Bulldogs' wideouts.
With senior safeties Evan Berry and Todd Kelly Jr. out with injuries, Micah Abernathy and Nigel Warrior played all of Tennessee's 17-13 win over UMass last week. It was the second Saturday in a row that the duo stayed on the field for all of the Vols' defensive plays.
Freshman safeties Cheyenne Labruzza and Theo Jackson are now primary backups at the position and Warren said "it's hard to answer" if the two are getting close to being ready for game action.
"It's a week-by-week deal, and it's from a standpoint of we've got to demonstrate things in practice — a complete understanding of the package we're in for that week," Warren said. "Those guys will play as they earn the right to play, not that they're not trying hard and doing great things in practice.
"But I think at some point you've got to step up to the front and demand those reps. I think right now we've got two guys playing at a pretty good level and those guys are fighting for reps."
Austin Smith update
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Austin Smith entered the season listed as a starting linebacker but suffered an injury in the days leading up to the opener and has yet to play. At practice Tuesday, he was seen going through drills in a green no-contact jersey.
When he's fully healthy, Smith's return will add depth to a unit that is also without seniors Cortez McDowell and Darrin Kirkland Jr. because of injury.
"Austin is working hard to get back out there," Shoop said. "I don't know if he'll be ready this week. He's running on the side a little bit and starting to do some individual (drills)."
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