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Tennessee Football Spring Preview: Cornerbacks

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Tennessee’s group of cornerbacks will look quite different in 2024. 

A few seniors departed while multiple players left via the transfer portal. 

A group that played a lot of football for Tennessee over the last couple of years will be replaced by young players with a lot of talent. 

And they’ll be led by veteran coaches. 

Willie Martinez will return to coach the cornerbacks with Tim Banks continuing to run the defense. 

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How will the combination go together for the Vols?

Let’s take a look at Tennessee’s group of cornerbacks entering spring practice. 

BIG STORY

Tennessee will open competition to a large group of players looking to prove themselves. 

Tennessee’s need at cornerback, as well as STAR (the nickel position), will make the spring interesting. 

Kamal Hadden, Gabe Jeudy-Lally, Doneiko Slaughter, Brandon Turnage and Warren Burrell played a lot of snaps the last few years. 

They’re all gone. 

That leaves rising second-year players Rickey Gibson III, Jordan Matthews, and Christian Conyer to show if they’re ready to play. 

Gibson made his first career start in the Citrus Bowl and has generated a lot of buzz since he arrived.

Another player to watch: Christian Harrison, a third-year player from the 2022 class. 

The attention on last year’s group of freshman corners limited the outside talk of Harrison.

But he’s a talented player who has impressed folks inside UT’s facility. 

Can Harrison make a name for himself this spring?

At STAR, Jourdan Thomas comes back with some experience (he started against Georgia last year), as does redshirt senior Will Brooks.

Jermod McCoy is a newcomer who will battle for a starting position. 

The transfer from Oregon State has a great chance of earning a starting spot this fall. 

Other players to watch will include Jalen McMurray, a transfer from Temple who started 23 games for the Owls, and signees Boo Carter and Marcus Goree from Bradley Central High School. 

Carter will bring a ton of intrigue. 

He’s a four-star athlete with the ability to play on either side of the ball. 

He’ll get his first crack on defense. 

Can Carter push to play immediately at the STAR position?

A lot of Tennessee fans hope so.  

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SPRING STAR

Jermod McCoy fits this profile for multiple reasons:

He’s already proven he can play in a power conference. 

He’s a newcomer looking to prove what he can do in the SEC.

McCoy has legit size (6-0, 190) to play with big wide receivers. 

He can also run, a requirement to succeed in the SEC.

As a freshman at Oregon State, McCoy led the Beavers with nine passes defended.

McCoy didn’t get as much attention as some other transfers that Tennessee landed during the winter window. 

But do not discount his importance. 

McCoy will have a chance to prove his ability this spring. 

BIG QUESTION

What kind of progress has Tennessee’s young players made?

Fans wanted to see more of them last year, but veterans held onto their positions. 

Their time is here. 

Every cornerback battling for playing time was recruited to Tennessee by Josh Heupel and his defensive staff. 

This will offer a test of their evaluations and development. 

And those players can prove their coaches right. 

That will have to happen through competition. 

No one is guaranteed a spot, although Gibson and McCoy probably enter spring as the favorites to start at corner and Thomas the favorite at STAR.

Perhaps the follow-up question should be: can anyone knock off one of the favorites?

ULTIMATE GOAL

There’s potential all over the place when looking at Tennessee’s corners. 

There’s just little to go off to know what to expect from them. 

Tennessee’s staff has worked to upgrade its athleticism and playmaking potential in the secondary. 

This group of cornerbacks has all of that. 

The previous group that just departed was solid — the Vols’ results as a defense back that up. 

But they probably reached their ceiling 

This group might have a lower floor to start out, but the ceiling goes up a few floors. 

They’ll start the climb this spring.

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