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 Michael Chang/Getty Images
Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images /

Projected starters at safety

Nigel Warrior; Junior; 6’0″ 188 lbs; Duluth, Ga.

Without a doubt the best player on the field for Tennessee football’s secondary, Nigel Warrior is the one guy who fans don’t have too many concerns about. The son of former Vols cornerback and two-time All-American Dale Carter, Warrior began living up to his father’s name last year. He was one of the brightest spots on the team.

This year, Warrior is probably the only guy who is a sure bet to start in the secondary for the Vols. He’ll definitely be one of the safeties, and that’s not all. With three solid players at safety, there’s a chance he could move over to play in the nickel package in place of Shawn Shamburger at times. That would make the most sense if Jeremy Pruitt wants his five best guys on the field.

Todd Kelly Jr.; Senior; 5’11” 200 lbs; Knoxville, Tenn.

He missed all of last year due to injury and had an odd offseason. But after missing the spring, another son of one of the early 1990s Tennessee football players is going to start alongside Warrior in the secondary. Fifth-year senior Todd Kelly Jr. was a rising star before he had to make up for injuries in the secondary in 2016 and then injuries hit him in 2017.

This year, though, he’s the most proven guy fully healthy, even beyond Nigel Warrior. As a result, he’ll regain his starting job back here and once again become a significant playmaker for the Vols. The only thing for him is returning to full health.

Other safeties in the rotation

Micah Abernathy; Senior; 6’0″ 195 lbs; Atlanta, Ga.

Micah Abernathy joins Todd Kelly Jr. and Nigel Warrior as one of the main guys in the rotation. He figures to see just as much action as the other two, even if he’s not starting. As we mentioned, there’s a chance that Warrior moves over to play nickel. Should that happen, Abernathy will be the other guy starting at safety.

The only reason we have Abernathy down here, though, is because of how he struggled last year. He did not really live up to his hype, and the transition to the 3-4 is bound to make him even worse. Still, there is reason to believe he can thrive with time down the stretch of his senior season. So that’s why he’s in the mix.

Theo Jackson; Sophomore; 6’2″ 193 lbs; Nashville, Tenn.

Theo Jackson joined Maleik Gray as the two second-team safeties in Tennessee football’s spring game. However, Jackson will be the guy who is the fourth safety on the roster. And given the depth Pruitt likes to run, that means we have him as a player who will still be in the main rotation. Expect him to see a good bit of action at safety this year.