What applies to Trey Smith on offense applies to Nigel Warrior on defense. He was one bright spot for Tennessee football last year and enters the season with high expectations. The son of Dale Carter Jr. is carving out his own legacy.
We’ve talked at length about how much the Vols figure to struggle this year in the secondary. After all, they are replacing all of their cornerbacks. The transition to the 3-4 combined with that makes for what will likely be a very rocky year in defending the pass.
These issues really manifested in the spring. The first team defensive backs were horrible, and Jeremy Pruitt and Kevin Sherrer are doing everything they can to find guys who can play back there. It’s not easy.
The one proven staple is Warrior. At safety, he was great last year, and he’s the only guy who will for sure start in the secondary this year. Even the other safety is a major question. Micah Abernathy is the returning starter, but he was very inconsistent last year. A schematic switch will only make things more difficult on him.
You would figure that Todd Kelly Jr., returning to full health, can reclaim his spot. But a tumultuous offseason and coming off a season-ending injury may limit what he can do. As a result, Warrior is the only guy in the secondary right now the Vols can rely on.
With all the questions back there, that makes Warrior the clear-cut top player Tennessee football can least afford to lose. Without him, the Vols could go from being a disaster in the secondary to being historically bad on a national scale. Yes, he’s that crucial. And yes, there are that many questions in the secondary. Warrior’s the only guy who can help to offset that a bit.