KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee coach Derek Dooley knows it
may take some time for the Volunteers' secondary to get completely
settled without star safety Janzen Jackson.
Dooley is shuffling players into different positions and is
turning to a pair of newcomers to fill the hole left by the 2010
all-Southeastern Conference defensive back as the Vols prepare for
Saturday's season opener against Montana. Dooley dismissed Jackson on Thursday after the junior neglected to get unspecified personal issues under control.
"We're not as good," Dooley said Wednesday. "I'd like to
sugarcoat it, but when you lose an all-conference guy, you're not
as good back there. You start getting stressed everywhere a little
bit. That's the way it is. Our program is better, our team is
better, but we're not as good in the secondary."
Jackson enrolled at McNeese State, in his hometown of Lake
Charles, La., on Friday. Though the Vols have plenty of players to
fill out the secondary, few players were prepared to fill in at
free safety, a position where Jackson started 22 of 23 games as a
freshman and sophomore.
To make up for his absence, the coaches slid cornerback Prentiss
Waggner to free safety and will turn to freshman Justin Coleman and
junior college transfer Izauea Lanier to fill Waggner's cornerback
spot. Sophomore Brent Brewer will start at strong safety, and
junior Marsalis Teague will start at the other cornerback position.
Coleman, who is expected to start on Saturday, has impressed his
coaches with his raw talent, but Dooley knows he'll need to be
better in order to survive in the SEC.
"He's not near where he needs to be to be a good, dependable
starter in this league, but the only thing that is going to get him
there is time and experience," Dooley said. "We have confidence
in him, but he's going to have some growing pains out there."
Waggner, who snagged five interceptions in 2010, said he was
happy to do whatever was needed to help the team, but he wished the
circumstances were better.
"I'm hurt," he said. "Janzen is like my little brother, a guy
that I hosted on his official visit, and it hurt me to my heart.
We've just got to move on, and guys have got to step up. Hopefully
we can carry it on through the season."
The young Vols will need some help from another freshman, Brian
Randolph, and redshirt junior Rod Wilks to back up Waggner and
Brewer. Another freshman safety, Pat Martin, intends to leave
Tennessee once he finds a place that is a better fit for him,
Like Coleman, Dooley expects Randolph will need experience on
the field to play to his full potential.
"He's just brand-new, so he's not playing as fast as you'd like
him to because he's thinking," Dooley said. "The more he gets in,
the better he'll play. He's a really smart, intelligent player and
he's a physical player. He's going to be a good player for us."
Wilks has been waiting for his shot in the secondary after
spending time at wide receiver in 2009 to add depth and spending
most of 2010 working with special teams.
"We have to stay focused. We have to be ready to go in at all
times," Wilks said. "You get tired playing this game. They play
94, 95 reps per game. You have to take a break sometime. I just
have to be ready, focused and be ready when I need to."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)