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Tennessee Football Spring Preview: Safety

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Tennessee’s safety position will look completely different from a year ago.

Jaylen McCollough set Tennessee’s career record for starts in the Citrus Bowl with 51 on Jan 1. He’s gone, as is Wesley Walker, the Vols’ other starter at safety last season. Walker transferred to Louisville in January, opening up two starting positions for Tennessee.

The departure of UT’s veterans will give new players an opportunity to start at safety.

The safeties will be coached by defensive coordinator Tim Banks, along with Willie Martinez (whose main priority will be the Vols’ cornerbacks).

Let’s take a look at UT’s personnel at safety entering spring practice.

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BIG STORY

Tennessee has a wide open competition to find the two best safeties on defense. 

Andre Turrentine played as a backup in 2023 and will be one of the first players to watch.  A former four-star recruit from Ensworth High School in Nashville, Turrentine transferred from Ohio State to Tennessee in 2022. Turrentine started Tennessee’s final three games, including the Vols’ win against Iowa in the Citrus Bowl. Turrentine intercepted a pass in the end zone in the first quarter, stopping Iowa’s best shot at scoring in that game. 

Turrentine has learned the defense over the last two seasons; is he ready to make plays as a full-time starter?

Jakobe Thomas transferred from Middle Tennessee to Tennessee. He’s making a big jump in terms of competition, but Thomas has drawn rave reviews for his work ethic and willingness to compete. At the very least, Thomas makes Tennessee’s competition at safety stronger.

Other players to watch will include Christian Charles, a veteran who’s yet to take hold of a regular spot, and John Slaughter. Defensive coordinator Tim Banks praised Slaughter for his athleticism, length, and “elite ball skills” after he arrived on campus in Dec. 2022. 

“I think he has a really bright future,” Banks said at the time.

Let’s see if Slaughter has tapped into that potential that had Banks excited. 

SPRING STAR

Let’s go with Turrentine. 

Projecting him as a “star” feels like a stretch, but there’s no obvious choice here. Turrentine is one of the most experienced players in the group. And it wouldn’t be surprising to hear coaches praise the way he’s worked and the progress he’s made. 

Make no mistake: Turrentine still has a lot to prove. 

But he’ll have the first chance among the safeties to prove it this spring. We might be overlooking a young player here. Could someone like Slaughter emerge? Perhaps. But Turrentine is a safer bet entering spring.

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BIG QUESTION

How many playmakers does Tennessee have at safety?

There are a lot of players to name here. But is this just a group of guys? Or will a difference maker or two show up?

In addition to the names already mentioned, players like Will Brooks and Jourdan Thomas — options at STAR — could be worth a look at safety. 

Is there someone at cornerback who could move to safety for a better chance to get on the field?

Freshman Edrees Farooq played at powerhouse St. Frances Academy in Baltimore and played in the U.S. Army All-American Game in January. Like most freshmen, he arrived needing to add weight (6-0, 190). But the winter workouts gave Farooq a head start on doing that.Let’s see what he can do this spring. 

Marcus Goree is another freshman who could work at safety. 

ULTIMATE GOAL

Find players ready to lock down a spot. 

Depth shouldn’t be a concern when looking for options and competition. Finding players who stand out is the bigger objective. Tennessee needs players who make plays on the ball – that’s a top priority for Banks.

Tennessee’s entire secondary will look very different from a year ago. There’s the fear of what new starters will or won’t know. 

But there’s the excitement of what they can become with a new opportunity.

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