This offseason, by nature, has raised plenty of questions concerning the product Tennessee will put to the field come Sept. 2. The battle for starting quarterback, the thin linebacker corps, and even head coach Josh Heupel’s fit at the helm of it all is being analyzed and questioned more and more each day.
For the cornerback position, one area of concern stood above the others heading into fall camp – depth.
Tennessee’s leading producer at corner last season was signed by the New Orleans Saints after going undrafted, leaving the position thin leading into spring training. At the time, only three returning Vols had significant experience at the position.
Since then, Tennessee has turned to the transfer portal to fill the spots left in the roster. The Vols came away with Kamal Hadden and Brandon Turnage, both of whom can make an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball.
Turnage played in three games at Alabama last season after redshirting his freshman year. Though the statistics won’t show it, his talent is certainly there and he, alongside Hadden, can provide significant reps in the secondary.
Hadden has seen the most playing time between the two. The No. 5 ranked JUCO corner is having a fantastic start to fall camp and will no doubt see the field this fall.
More than anything, the addition of both Turnage and Hadden will provide quality insurance for a previously thin group of cornerbacks. The overall success at the position could ultimately rely on the production these two can provide as the season progresses.
“We felt coming out of spring that we didn’t have quite enough depth. But, obviously, having a couple of portal guys come into our program and come into the fold, we feel like we’ve established some depth,” defensive coordinator Tim Banks said at the start of fall camp. “Now, what that depth looks like is yet to be determined.”
Alontae Taylor, Warren Burrell, and Kenneth George Jr. are expected to highlight the majority of snaps at cornerback this season.
Taylor is a recognizable name for much of Vol nation. He is known as a leader on defense and was one of the bright spots in a secondary that struggled heavily throughout head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s final season. Taylor did not allow a touchdown all year against SEC- level talent and totaled 29 tackles and one interception in just eight games. For all intents and purposes, the starting role is his to lose.
The other starting spot is up in the air. Burrell and George both have strong potential to be something big for the Vols, but have struggled to make a lasting impact at the position.
Burrell started the final four games of the 2020 season and totaled 17 tackles and one pass breakup. He also made his presence known in the spring, posting a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Orange & White game.
George Jr. had similar production, and will likely see the field plenty as a Tennessee graduate.