Tennessee football 2018 preview by position: Vols secondary

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 04: Micah Abernathy
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 04: Micah Abernathy /
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Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images /

Projected starters at cornerback

Baylen Buchanan; Junior; 5’11” 193 lbs; Lawrenceville, Ga.

This is probably the biggest no-brainer. Baylen Buchanan was a member of the first-team defense for Tennessee football’s spring game. He’s also a veteran who demonstrated a unique ability to pick up defensive systems early on back in the Butch Jones days. As a result, he already has significant experience starting at the college level.

Remember, Buchanan filled in for Cameron Sutton back in 2016. And he was actually pretty solid. So going into this year, you have to figure that he’s the one guy who could shoulder the load of guarding the wideouts up close. The son of Ray Buchanan, coming from a football family should help him here.

Marquill Osborne; Junior; 5’11” 190 lbs; Cornelius, N.C.

Once a four-star recruit, Marquill Osborne has not yet had the chance to live up to his hype. He only saw sporadic action an pressing situations over the past couple of years. However, he has a good bit of talent, and this could be the year he finally gets to showcase.

Although nobody did anything halfway decent in the secondary this past spring, Osborne did just enough to hold his spot as a first-teamer. As a result, he’s likely to be a starter this year when you combine that with his experience and the fact that he’s a natural athlete.

Projected starter at nickel

Shawn Shamburger; Sophomore; 5’11” 193 lbs; Moultrie, Ga.

One of the main guys on the first-team as well, Shawn Shamburger will likely see action when Tennessee football goes five-deep and runs its nickel set. The guy is more physical than Buchanan or Osborne, even if he’s not as great in coverage. He showed that last year when he saw action.

As a result, he’ll probably be the starter here. Shamburger’s play on the outside is questionable, but his ability to make plays in the middle is perfect for him here. The big question is if he can be as effective in the 3-4 as he was in Bob Shoop’s system, which favors nickel players. But he held his spot with the first-team in the spring, so that’s a good sign.

Other cornerbacks in the rotation

Cheyenne Labruzza; r-Freshman; 5’11” 188 lbs; Albany, La.

Cheyenne Labruzza played for the second-team defense in Tennessee football’s spring game. However, he was coming off knee surgery and spent most of the spring with the safeties. As a result, with a full fall camp to get healthy, he’ll probably return to the first-team rotation and back up Shamburger at nickel while also coming in on dime packages at some points. That puts him here as another guy who will play a good bit.

D.J. Henderson; Senior; 5’11” 179 lbs; Lyman, S.C.

A converted wide receiver, D.J. Henderson missed all of spring with a hip injury. But Jeremy Pruitt said he wants some seniors in his rotation. And Henderson is that guy, so if he can get fully healthy, there’s no reason to believe that he can’t come in and be another cornerback part of this rotation who sees real action. In fact, he might even be the No. 3 guy on the outside, as Labruzza has more safety and nickel experience.