The Vol secondary suffered a major setback when All-America safety Eric Berry elected to bypass his senior season in favor of the NFL Draft. Fellow junior Dennis Rogan, who had starts at safety and cornerback during his UT career, also opted for the NFL over another year of college ball.
The secondary took another substantial hit 10 days ago when sophomore Darren Myles, the projected successor to Berry at strong safety, was dismissed from the team due to his involvement in an altercation at a Knoxville bar on July 9.
Minus Berry, Rogan and Myles, Tennessee's secondary outlook is nowhere near as promising as it would be with them returning. The picture is especially muddled at safety, where the only scholarship returnees are sophomores Janzen Jackson, Prentiss Waggner and Rod Wilks.
Jackson started nine games last season and projects to be an All-SEC candidate this fall. There's a significant drop-off in experience after him, however.
Waggner played in all 13 games last fall - starting vs. Memphis and Ole Miss - but recorded just 6 tackles and zero pass breakups. Wilks saw backup action in all 13 games, recording 1 tackle, 1 assist and zero pass breakups. Senior walk-on Tyler Wolf played enough to letter last fall but he registered all 4 of his tackles and all 6 of his assists covering punts and kickoffs.
Given how shaky Tennessee is at safety, incoming freshman Eddrick Loften has an excellent chance to play a key role in Year 1. A four-year starter at Nimitz High of Irving, Texas, Lofton has the size (6-0, 200 pounds), coverage skills (16 career interceptions) and run-stuffing ability (426 career tackles) to make immediate impact at strong safety.
With a strong preseason camp Loften might even find himself in Tennessee's Game 1 lineup. After all, starting a freshman safety is not unprecedented on The Hill.
Charles Davis started at free safety as a freshman in 1983. Jason Parker started 10 games at free safety in 1992. Rashad Baker started eight games at free safety in 2000. Eric Berry started 12 games at strong safety (two more at cornerback) in 2007.
Because safety involves a heavier mental workload than cornerback, it's a little tougher position for a freshman to play. Given Tennessee's lack of depth at the position, however, the Vols may have no choice but to throw Eddrick Loften into the mix right away.