KNOXVILLE -- The numbers up front are getting the most attention.
The makeup of Tennessee's new defensive coaching staff might suggest otherwise, however.
Given new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri's expertise as a linebackers coach, the Volunteers had some flexibility in how to slot the other two defensive openings on the staff. Sunseri elected to go with two coaches in the secondary, hiring Derrick Ansley to pair with Terry Joseph. A former safety, Ansley will handle cornerbacks, while Joseph, who coached the entire secondary last season, will coach safeties.
For Sunseri it's simply about the student-teacher ratio.
"The bottom line is those corners and safeties are getting one-on-one coaches," he said last week. "They're working with two guys. Terry's got the safeties, Derrick's got the corners, [so] these guys are getting one-on-one coaches. It's hard when you're coaching four guys to see everybody at once.
"Now I've got eyes on the safeties, eyes on the corners and then they're meeting one on one. It's good, in my opinion."
The objective of having an assistant coaching fewer guys goes beyond the secondary, though. Sunseri believes in that system enough that he plans to split up the linebacker responsibilities as well. The 52-year-old handled Alabama's outside linebackers for three years before taking the UT job, but he said last week he'll handle primarily the Vols' inside linebackers.
"You'll have an inside guy, you'll have any outside guy," Sunseri said. "Now if you look at it, [defensive line coach] John Palermo's working with three guys, I'm working with two, somebody else will be working with the outside 'backers who I have total faith in. The most anybody should work with is three to four guys."
It's likely a graduate assistant would handle the outside linebackers as Sunseri referenced, but that decision has yet to be made. Schirra Fields, a former LSU walk-on receiver who worked with Vols coach Derek Dooley at Louisiana Tech in 2009, was UT's defensive graduate assistant last season. Former Georgia Tech quarterback and UT-Martin quarterbacks coach Kyle Manley joined UT's staff as an offensive graduate last month and replaced Chino Fontenette, who had worked with the Vols' running backs the past two seasons.
Ansley, who called his opportunity to coach at UT a "no-brainer," played safety at Troy, coached defensive backs at Division III Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala., for five years and worked as a graduate assistant with Sunseri for the past two seasons at Alabama before he was hired at Central Florida in December.
"I think with the way college football is transforming with more spread [offenses]." said the 31-year-old, "the corner and safety positions are two totally different positions. It's two totally different positions fundamentally, the mental preparation and all that stuff. I think you've got to kind of have two coaches to be able to take those guys and teach them what you want them to do coverage- and scheme-wise."
When Peter Sirmon, who left for Washington last month after one season as UT's linebackers coach, was a graduate assistant for the Vols in 2010, he handled the safeties while Joseph coached the cornerbacks.
"Obviously D.A., who's been in the system for a while, is going to be a tremendous help for us," Joseph said. "Obviously with the vocabulary and terminology that we've got to get these guys to learn -- but also the adjustments that we'll make defensively now will come mostly from the back-end guys -- having some specialization between corners and safeties is going to help us out."
Receivers coach Darin Hinshaw said star wideout Justin Hunter is "further along than expected" on his rehabilitation from a torn ACL suffered at Florida in September. The rising junior still won't take any physical contact during spring practice next month.
"We're going to work him and get him ready to compete on air, basically," Hinshaw said. "Hopefully by the end of spring ball, at that point he's really running good, cutting well and rehab again is going to continue all the way until June. When it hits June, we should feel like he's full go back to the old Justin Hunter. That's what we'd like."
Fugate to linebacker
Fullback Channing Fugate wrote on his Facebook page last week that he was "excited about making the move to linebacker." The rising junior lost his starting job to Ben Bartholomew after the season opener, but the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Kentucky native kept a role on a couple of the Vols' special-teams units.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...