1. Who will secure starting spots at free safety and nickel?
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As we’ve been saying, Tennessee football has three starting spots locked up, with free safety and nickel opening. Really, it’s just one spot, free safety. But the nickel spot, while Baylen Buchanan is the favorite, still has competition from Shawn Shamburger and Cheyenne Labruzza. That can be interesting.
On the safety side, while Trevon Flowers is the favorite, Theo Jackson had the most playing time last year. Meanwhile, Jaylen McCullough was the breakout star in spring ball. Then there’s Deangelo Gibbs, who has transferred and could potentially steal the job. And he leads to our next major question.
2. Will Deangelo Gibbs be granted eligibility?
If Deangelo Gibbs is granted the eligibility waiver, the Vols will have a great collection of options at safety, particularly experienced options. However, without him, Jeremy Pruitt will have a few questions for at least one safety spot. As a result, Gibbs’s status, while not as crucial as Aubrey Solomon at defensive tackle, is a major question for the secondary.
Should he get the waiver, don’t be surprised if Gibbs immediately pushes Flowers for the starting spot at safety. Again, he’s more experienced that Flowers or Jackson, and Pruitt had to target him as a transfer for a reason. His experience in this 3-4, having played for Kirby Smart for two years already, is also a major plus.
3. How many turnovers can the unit force?
Pruitt lamented his defense’s inability to force turnovers early in the year last season. Part of that, though, was on the secondary. It was very notable when they couldn’t recover the numerous fumbles forced against the Georgia Bulldogs. Still, Bryce Thompson had three interceptions, and Alontae Taylor had a recovery for a touchdown against the Auburn Tigers.
This year, if Thompson and Taylor can take their games to next levels and Nigel Warrior can finally maximize his potential, Tennessee football could wreak havoc on people in the secondary. And they could create numerous opportunities for an offense that is still going to need to do some developing next year.