When asked about who was leading the competition at “will” (weakside) linebacker, Tennessee defensive coordinator hesitated, then commented “Probably based on experience, Cortez McDowell.”
Shoop was quick to include other names though. “Elliott Berry has had a good camp thus far. It’s good to have Quart’e Sapp back and Austin Smith.”
It’s easy to forget about Sapp and Smith, who missed the entire season last year due to injury. Shoop pointed that out as well. “People forget some of the non-starters that weren’t able to play last year. Getting those guys back — getting them back in the swing of things has been very positive.”
Shoop said that those four — McDowell, Berry, Sapp and Smith have performed very well. Being able to potentially go four deep at just one linebacker position has to be music to Tennessee fans’ ears after a season last year where the injuries kept piling up.
The second year Tennessee defensive coordinator then shifted gears to the secondary, particularly talking about the younger cornerbacks. Shoop mentioned that freshman Terrell Bailey is running as the third nickel spot behind Rashaan Gaulden and Baylen Buchanan. Micah Abernathy was mentioned as an emergency option to play nickel.
“Shamburger is the one guy that we think has a chance to maybe make some contributions at corner right now. He’s probably a little bit ahead,” Shoop said.
Shoop is referring to freshman cornerback Shawn Shamburger, who enrolled back in June. He was listed as a three star recruit, but the staff has been glowing about the 6-0 corner since he arrived on campus.
Tennessee defensive backs coach Charlton Warren also singled out Shamburger as one that has flashed, but has also shown some consistency.
Some of the deficiencies that popped up last year defensively — mainly depth — appear to be in better shape this go around. Brady Hoke has already talked about being able to go “10 deep” up front. We’ve heard about the added linebacker depth and the early successes of Will Ignont. Now we hear about Terrell Bailey and Shawn Shamburger.
Don’t forget that Tennessee is adding Shaq Wiggins into that mix as well. In year two of Bob Shoop, the Volunteers appear to be in much better shape in terms of depth and versatility. This group has to show it on the field, though. We’re just a few short weeks from seeing what the working product will look like.