Tennessee’s greatest area of unknown entering the 2018 season is cornerback, where the Vols lost four contributors from their 2017 team. It’s going to be a completely new group for Jeremy Pruitt in year one, but the good news is that defensive backs are kind of Pruitt’s thing.
Pruitt has developed plenty of top NFL talent during his time at Alabama, Florida State and Georgia. However, he won’t have those blue chippers to start his time in Knoxville. He’s going to have do develop some inherited, lesser rated talent.
One of his main guys in the secondary figures to be Shawn Shamburger. A former three-star recruit, Shamburger was ranked outside of 247 Sports’ top 1,000 prospects in 2017. That didn’t stop him from making an immediate splash in training camp. Shamburger was the recipient of consistent praise from Butch Jones and former defensive backs coach Charlton Warren. There just didn’t seem to be much of a transitional period for him as a freshman.
With several upperclassmen in front of him, Shamburger had to wait his turn to play. But an injury to Justin Martin opened the door for him to make his first start against Alabama. His immediate matchup? None other than Calvin Ridley, one of college football’s best receivers in 2017 and the Atlanta Falcons first round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Shamburger held his own against Ridley. Jalen Hurts looked his way on the first snap of the game, but Shamburger closed and wrapped him up for a minimal game. It was an immediate look at his physicality as a player. That physicality continued throughout the day as Shamburger racked up 12 tackles on the day.
In the spring game, Shamburger manned the nickel position, a similar role to what Rashaan Gaulden played for Tennessee last year. With Baylen Buchanan and Marquill Osbourne playing outside, it makes sense to play a more physical guy that can play the run like Shamburger in that nickel spot.
I’ll be interested to see if Kevin Sherrer and Jeremy Pruitt choose to play him on the outside at all, or keep him in that nickel sub-package. Tennessee doesn’t have great numbers at cornerback, so I’d guess we will see him on the outside sooner or later.
It’s going to be a bit of a dicey transition period for the Tennessee secondary, especially with Will Grier and the West Virginia Mountaineers up first during week one. It should be fun to follow their progress as the year goes on.