The best one-two defensive punch in the Southeastern Conference this coming season could very well reside in the Tennessee Volunteers’ defensive backfield.

With the addition of Demetrice Morley, a junior safety who redshirted last season, to go along with last season’s Freshman All-American Eric Berry, the Vols boast two of the most exciting playmakers in the SEC as members of their defensive secondary.

Morley’s return adds more star power to what already figured to be one of Tennessee’s deepest units going into the ’08 season.

Under the direction of veteran UT defensive backs coach Larry Slade, the Vols’ secondary went from being one of the team’s weakest links at the beginning of last season to being arguably the most improved unit on the team by year’s end.

Depleted by injuries early on last season, the Tennessee defensive backs were victimized during the first half of the 2007 slate, allowing a pair of passing touchdowns and 230 yards through the air in a season-opening loss at California; 299 passing yards and two touchdowns in a key SEC Eastern Division loss to arch-rival Florida; and in perhaps the lowest point of the season, the Vols’ secondary allowed 363 yards and three passing touchdowns in a lopsided loss at Alabama.

Although the Vols rallied to win six of their last seven games of 2007, thanks in part to a maturing secondary, Tennessee allowed a season-high 430 yards and a staggering six touchdown passes in an overtime win over Kentucky, and 330-yards and a passing touchdown in a tight home win over South Carolina.

Berry was a major part of the Vols’ defensive backs' rejuvenation last year. As a starting true freshman safety, the former high school All-American from Fairburn, Georgia, led UT with five interceptions and a school-record 222 return yards. Berry added 55 yards in fumble returns and led all SEC freshmen with 86 tackles.

Cornerbacks DeaAngelo Willingham, Dennis Rogan, Antonio Gaines, Marsalous Johnson and Brent Vinson are all considered versatile enough to play different positions in the secondary if need be and will be vying for playing time in what figures to be a very deep defensive backfield in 2008.

“The secondary is very talented and experienced,” said Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer. "They’re experienced enough now to get themselves into position where they can make plays.”

Morley’s return gives the Vols two hard-hitting, playmaking safeties and should provide Tennessee with one of its most dynamic defensive backfields in years.

A Parade and USA Today First-Team All-American coming out of high school, Morley, like Berry in 2007, made an instant impact on the Vols’ secondary as freshman in 2006.

Morley, a Rivals.com Freshman All-American and a First-Team Freshman All-SEC by the Sporting News in 2005, hit the ground running by breaking up a would-be game-tying pass in a Vols’ home game vs. Alabama-Birmingham in his college debut, preserving a 17-10 Tennessee win. He had a season-high five tackles against SEC-East rival Georgia and picked off his first career pass in the Vols’ 2005 regular-season finale’ against Kentucky.

Morley came back as a sophomore in 2006 and was one of the Vols’ most solid defenders, starting 10 of 13 games and finishing with 51 tackles and two interceptions. Morley was dismissed from the football team and left school for academic reasons following the 2006 season. He spent the 2007 season at Pellissippi State Technical Community College in an attempt to restore his eligability at UT.

Berry, also a Parade All-American coming out of high school and ranked as the nation’s top cornerback recruit from the recruiting class of 2006 by Rivals.com, couldn’t have scripted a better freshman season as a Vol.

The son of a former Vols’ team-captain (James Berry 1981), Berry was named the SEC’s Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in ’07. He made his first appearance as a Vol at nickleback in the season-opener at California and was named a starting safety the next week against Southern Mississippi. His 222 return yards broke a 37-year old UT record and already ranks third all-time in the SEC.

“If they get their hands on the ball, then those two (Morley and Berry) can make things happen,” Fulmer commented. “Our secondary has a chance to be one of the strengths of our team. Coach Slade always does a good job of getting them ready to play and getting them in the position to succeed.”

 

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