With Eric Gordon’s return to the team still in doubt, Tennessee appears likely to enter the 2013 season minus four 2012 cornerbacks who made 72 career starts as Volunteers.
Of course, given how awful Tennessee’s cornerback play was last fall, that may not be a bad thing.
Prentiss Waggner (38 starts) and Marsalis Teague (19) are out of eligibility. Gordon (14 starts) has been estranged from the program since March and Daniel Gray (1 start) has transferred to Utah State after just one year on The Hill. None played particularly well last fall, when Tennessee allowed 282.5 passing yards per game to rank 110th among 120 NCAA Bowl Championship Subdivision teams.
Despite the mass exodus, Tennessee returns two corners with a combined 17 career starts – juniors Justin Coleman (13) and Jaron Toney (4). Coleman got four starts in 2011 and nine in 2012. Toney, a former walk-on tailback, got all four of his starts at nickel back last fall, when the Vols played most of the season with five DBs on the field. If they’d been allowed to use five more they might have been able to bat down an occasional pass.
Coleman (5-feet-10, 183 pounds) had a good spring and projects to start again in 2013. Barring Gordon’s return, Toney (5-feet-10, 188 pounds) appears likely to be the No. 1 nickel back. Junior college transfer Riyahd Jones (6-feet, 186 pounds) showed promise at the other corner spot before missing the back end of spring drills with an MCL injury.
Even if Jones is 100 percent by the opener, Tennessee’s depth at corner is non-existent. The only other scholarship cornerback is fifth-year senior Nyshier Oliver (5-feet-10, 179 pounds). He was so deep in Derek Dooley’s doghouse last fall that he only played in the finale against Kentucky, when Dooley stepped aside and let Jim Chaney call the shots.
An intriguing prospect is redshirt freshman walk-on Michael F. Williams, a 5-foot-11, 165-pounder who played football in high school but decided to attend the University of Maryland on a track scholarship. He left after one year in hopes of making an impact on Tennessee’s secondary this fall. Another option is sophomore walk-on Max Arnold (5-feet-11, 186 pounds), who returned an interception 62 yards for a touchdown in the Orange & White Game.
The fact three of Tennessee’s top six cornerbacks are walk-ons should tell you two things:
One, Tennessee’s depth at cornerback is perilously thin.
Two, incoming freshmen Malik Foreman (5-feet-10, 175 pounds) of Kingsport and Cameron Sutton (6-feet-1, 170 pounds) of Jonesboro, Ga., had better be ready to help when the Vols take the field against Austin Peay on Aug. 31.