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Tennessee rebuilds secondary with new and old Vol defensive backs

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Knock, knock. Who’s ready for a secondary rebuild? Boo, that’s who.

All joking aside, there is serious business afoot for the Vols in the secondary as spring camp continues. Tennessee has to replace eight contributors from its defensive backfield from last season. Here are some thoughts from the Vols on how their secondary is progressing by player:

Boo Carter

“The challenge is to learn everything for Boo,” Tennessee defensive backs coach Willie Martinez said. “Boo is explosive. You put him in any kind of drill and he’s going to show up. He is so athletic. He’s quick. He’s got great instincts. It’s just the part of putting it all together in a package, learning it and being consistent. 

“He has really done a nice job the last couple practices. It has really slowed down for him. You can see it. When he plays the STAR position, he’s getting us lined up better than he did in the first couple of practices, and he understands now how the tempo is. 

“He hasn’t really panicked, but he’s a very competitive player, wants to win on every play. That’s what you love about him. It’s just trying to slow the process down for him where it’s not happening too fast. It was early, but I think he’s doing a really nice job the last couple practices.” 

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Jermod McCoy

“Jermod’s different than the other two transfers or really anybody,” Martinez said. “He never played defense. He was an athletic kid in high school and was recruited to the school that he chose to be a wide receiver. They actually made the flip and asked him to go play defense and he did a great job.”

“We saw the athleticism. That’s the one thing that we saw, is that he can do a lot of things. To the point that it was just said, is that he’s not even close to being there development-wise. He’s learning the game from a defensive standpoint, but he has confidence, ball skills and all types of athleticism. He understands leverage, and I think his training as an offensive player helps him understand defense too. He knows how he is going to be attacked. Those are really good qualities to have when you get moved over. He’s going against a position that he lined up against, so it’s a great combination. 

“He is nowhere near (ready to play). He played a lot of match (zone coverage) and a lot of man where he came from. We are very multiple on defense. Getting to learn all of the different types of zone coverages is a challenge for him. He’s doing a good job in the first seven practices. He had a really good scrimmage.”

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Jalen McMurray

“He’s been, out of the new guys, the most consistent player, meaning he is making production every day,” Martinez said. “You can see it. He’s got great instincts, he’s smart, he actually knows the plays before the plays are being run. He has that knack about him, and he’s been the most consistent player each day, so it’s really great to see because we need that competition, which helps those other young guys who are developing to see that we brought some guys in here to compete for a starting job. He’s doing a great job.”

Rickey Gibson III

“I think the biggest difference is just my confidence,” said Gibson, who is a rising sophomore, when asked how he’s evolved over the past year. “I feel like I can play more, play a little more physical and actually play with the guys now. When I first got here, I was kind of going too fast. I had to lock in a little bit more, but I would say my confidence.”

“I think I have to be more reliable. Just know that when they throw the ball to my side of the field, it will be incomplete, everybody will know it’s incomplete and they don’t have to worry about that side, so (defensive coordinator) coach (Tim) Banks can be more aggressive on calling the calls because our defensive line is so good. Let us get into their faces a little bit more.”  

Jalen McMurray

“Obviously, it’s in the SEC,” McMurray said when asked why he chose Tennessee. “In my opinion, it’s the best conference in the nation. Being able to compete against the best, not only during games, but during practice as well. I feel like that was a huge deciding factor. Being able to come here and really push myself, and being able to push the guys in my room and the receivers I go against in practice and games.”

On being a newcomer but also having years of experience compared to incoming freshmen…

“I was actually talking to my parents about how I’ve always been the young, old head, so the younger guy but the old head type. This is the first time I have actually been the oldest or one of the oldest in the room. It’s different, but at the same time when you’ve got guys that we have in our room that are extremely talented, we all push each other and it’s a healthy competition. We are all there for each other. If someone messes up on a play, we try to coach them up.”

Jourdan Thomas

“I think I try to look at the setbacks in a positive way,” Thomas said when asked about injuries he has suffered in college.”I know God has a plan for everyone, including me, and I just try to look at it in a positive way. I didn’t want to mess up. I just wanted to lock in on whatever I could in the moment, get better at rehab. 

“I was really training to focus on the mentality of the game, the playbook, learning the scheme and defense. Just knowing the defense in-and-out and knowing the offensive plays. I feel like I’ve grown as a leader and as a player as well. I’ve been focusing on my leadership skills.

Andre Turrentine

“I want to accomplish a lot of things…I want to work on my man coverage and specifically, some of my zone drops and keeping my eyes on the right place,” Turrentine said when asked what he wanted to work on this spring. “That’s the standard for what we want to get accomplished positionally and as a defensive back room. As a secondary and as a group, I want to get these guys close together. We have a lot of transfers coming in. I know what it looks like. I have been here. I know what Coach Banks and Coach Martinez want out of the secondary. Getting those guys adjusted to the program, adjusted to what we are doing, also getting those guys close to us and getting close to other guys that haven’t been here and then some of the younger guys who have gotten bigger roles this year.”

On the most difficult thing about transferring…

“It’s really hard. Thinking back personally, Ohio State, coming from another program to coming here, is one of the hardest things you have to do as a player. However it goes, it’s different for every person. For me personally, just taking that transition from a place where the standard is the utmost and then also bringing that here with yourself, figuring where you fall in line in the new program, with the new players you are going to be playing with and then trying to gain your confidence back is a really big thing some guys struggle with when they are young and they have to transfer. 

“When you’re older, I would say it is a little bit different. When you have expectations that coaches have told you that you are coming in to expect certain things, when those things don’t arise, it can be frustrating.  Transferring to a new place can be a hard thing to do. I think the guys that have come in have picked up the ball where we left off.”

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