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Vol DBs lauded within top tier

Vol DBs lauded within top tier

Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2008 6:01 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE (AP) — Demetrice Morley has waited an extra-long time to make his next hit as a Tennessee safety.
After serving a year suspension, the junior has returned to anchor what is potentially one of the best secondaries in the country with the help of safety Eric Berry and a number of cornerbacks.
“I can’t wait. I feel anxious. I feel like a little kid again,” Morley said.
The defensive backs were the one of the biggest concerns entering the 2007 season and had a rough start in outings at California and Florida before improving tremendously.
Injuries forced the Vols to play a number of people at cornerback. This season, seniors DeAngelo Willingham and Antonio Gaines, junior Marsalous Johnson, sophomores Dennis Rogan and Brent Vinson and even freshman Art Evans could see playing time.
Willingham and Rogan are projected to start at cornerback Monday against UCLA. Vinson will serve a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules.
“Obviously it’s a more experienced secondary, probably a more confident secondary,” defensive backs coach Larry Slade said. “When you go out there and break in a lot of new guys … they’re learning on the job.”
That’s exactly what Berry, Willingham, Vinson and Rogan did last season after Johnson and Gaines suffered season-ending injuries early in the season.
Now they don’t have to spend so much effort during a game thinking about different coverage packages and schemes. It’s automatic now.
Willingham has been praised by coaches as being the most improved player on the entire 18th-ranked Tennessee team from last season. Rogan, who will continue to work as a punt and kickoff returner, has been touted by coaches for his strong work ethic.
Berry’s gotten a lot of preseason attention after his 222 interception return yards broke a 37-year old record last season. His picture was on the cover of Athlon Sports’ southeastern football preview magazine, earning some teasing from his teammates.
Having a mentor like Morley, who started 10 games in 2006, could make Berry even better though.
During practices, they compete to see who can snatch more balls away from receivers, who can rack up more tackles and who can hit the hardest.
The two have bonded off the field. Morley, who was attending a nearby community college in 2007 to improve his academic standing, would call Berry before games and wish him luck.
“I knew he was a special player,” Morley said. “We kind of started that brotherly bond before I even came back here. When I got here, it just got stronger.”
In fact, the whole secondary has bonded. They spend a lot of time together off the field and even found a new hobby this summer: eating at one of Knoxville’s many sushi restaurants.
The dedication to both practice and supporting one another is paying off. After his players started off 2007 giving up big plays, missing tackles and struggling against the passing game, defensive coordinator John Chavis seems more at ease.
“We knew what we had last year. We knew the situation. I didn’t make any excuses then. I won’t make any excuses now,” he said. “We feel a lot better about where we are right now.”


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