Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt confident in cornerbacks despite attrition

Tennessee's Marquill Osborne, who will be a junior in the 2018 season, returns at cornerback as part of a group with little starting experience on the college level.

Editor's note: This is the first in a series previewing Tennessee football before spring practices begin March 20.

Position breakdown

Cornerbacks› Who’s gone: Rashaan Gaulden, Justin Martin, Emmanuel Moseley and Shaq Wiggins.› Who’s new: Brandon Davis and Joseph Norwood are expected to join the program later this year as blueshirts, meaning they would be scholarship players for the 2019 season.Safeties› Who’s gone: Evan Berry.› Who’s new: Trevon Flowers is expected to join the program in time for preseason practice.

photo Tennessee's Micah Abernathy (22) tackles UMass's Andy Isabella (23). The University of Massachusetts Minutemen visited the University of Tennessee Volunteers in NCAA football action in Knoxville on September 23, 2017.
photo Tennessee defensive back Nigel Warrior pumps up the crowd against South Carolina at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 14, in Knoxville, Tenn.

KNOXVILLE - Asked whether Tennessee successfully addressed a position of need, cornerbacks, with the 2018 football signing class, first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt offered a quick retort during a news conference last month.

"Well, who said cornerback was a need in this class?" Pruitt said.

Tennessee missed on big-name cornerbacks in the 2018 signing class after last year's top four players at the position were seniors or declared for the NFL draft. Pruitt will get a closer look at the defensive backfield in a little more than a week, but his initial impression of what the Volunteers return at cornerback was surprisingly positive.

"To me, I know some of the guys on our team, and we got guys to me that can play cornerback," he said. "I think all those guys can play multiple spots, so I feel like we addressed our needs at that position."

Terrell Bailey and Shawn Shamburger will be sophomores, while Baylen Buchanan and Marquill Osborne will be juniors at the corners. That group of four has a combined total of two college starts.

The competition could be bolstered during spring practice by three wild cards, Tyler Byrd, Carlin Fils-aime and Cheyenne Labruzza.

Byrd played his freshman and sophomore seasons at wide receiver under the previous coaching staff but is moving to defensive back under Pruitt. The previous coaching staff moved Labruzza from cornerback to safety during his freshman season in 2017, but he appears likely to play cornerback in 2018 because of veteran depth at safety. Fils-aime is moving from running back to cornerback.

The cornerbacks will be coached by former Vols star Terry Fair, while Former Florida State defensive coordinator Charles Kelly will be in charge of the safeties.

Last year's starting safeties, Micah Abernathy and Nigel Warrior, return and are expected to participate in spring practices, while the experienced Todd Kelly Jr. will be a fifth-year senior on the 2018 roster. Kelly's status for spring practices is unclear as he continues recovering from a knee injury.

The Vols also return rising sophomores Maleik Gray and Theo Jackson at safety.

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at facebook.com/volsupdate.