Tennessee returns 17 starters in 2019 — none more important than their top two cornerbacks. Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson each made the full time transition to cornerback last season. As expected, each took their lumps as freshmen.
“It was different, it was extremely different,” Thompson said during the fan day media session on Sunday. “I never played corner, like at all in high school. I was really offense. It was just a big transition. I’m a big competitor though. We just realized, whatever helps the team, I’m good with it.”
At the time, Tennessee had to find an answer at the cornerback position. The Vols lost four corners as Jeremy Pruitt arrived. Frankly, Tennessee swung a missed quite a bit at the position during that first abbreviated cycle for Pruitt. However, three months after national signing day, Bryce Thompson brought some help to the secondary by committing to Tennessee.
Thompson joined Alontae Taylor in the cornerback room, who also signed with Tennessee as an athlete. The common thought around Taylor was that he would become a receiver, but immediate needs placed Taylor on the defensive side of the ball.
Now entering year two, Taylor and Thompson form one of the youngest and most potent cornerback duos in the SEC.
“I feel like Coach Pruitt is the best defensive coach in the country right now,” Thompson said. “I’m proud to call myself a defensive back. That first year is a little shaky, you don’t know what to expect, but last year taught us a lot. It helped us with some of the losses and the wins. It helped us grow and mature a little bit quicker than we were supposed to.”
If you’re looking for a reason for optimism about Tennessee football, look no further than this cornerback group. Pruitt admitted earlier in the summer that he might not have been as aggressive as he wanted to be in 2018, due to the lack of experience and trust in his young secondary. With a full year of games under their belt now, year two should be a different story. New defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley will be tasked with taking advantage of that luxury that Pruitt didn’t have in year one.
Tennessee ranked a very respectable 49th in total defense in year one of the Jeremy Pruitt era. That young secondary was torched in matchups against West Virginia, Alabama, Missouri and Vanderbilt. Now in year two, can this group can be counted on as a strength of this team?