Editor's note: This is the first in a series previewing Tennessee football before spring practices begin March 20.
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.
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.
Tennessee football preview
- Offensive line's health an issue for Vols' spring practices
- Ty Chandler is front-runner for top spot at running back
- Alontae Taylor part of Vols' fresh start for wide receivers
- Spring just the beginning for Vols' football competition
- Vols have key spots to fill on special teams
- Healthy Shy Tuttle may be top candidate for Vols' nose tackle
- Vols coaches plan to cross-train linebackers
- Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt confident in cornerbacks despite attrition