KNOXVILLE — Tennessee announced the arrival of 12 new football players Thursday, but the one loss might cause a bigger splash.
The program announced that cornerback Izauea Lanier is ineligible for the 2012 season, meaning the Volunteers will be short one projected starter in their transitioning defense.
No reason was given in the university's release, but coach Derek Dooley said in early May he expected the team might suffer an academic casualty or two. Lanier signed with Auburn out of high school in 2009 and failed to qualify academically. When he signed with UT out of East Mississippi Community College last February, there were some concerns he could suffer a similar fate.
"There's several guys we're always concerned about every year going down the stretch," the coach said on May 7. "The reality is you lose one or two every year. Hopefully we won't, but that's kind of the nature of the beast and every team deals with it."
A nine-game starter last season, the 6-foot-1, 188-pound Lanier figured to be the biggest beneficiary of UT's greater emphasis on more press coverage at the line of scrimmage. The Vols spent most of spring practice rotating four players at the corners.
After starting four games as a true freshman, Justin Coleman left spring listed as the other starting corner, and seniors Prentiss Waggner and Marsalis Teague were also in the mix.
"It's still a collection and we've got to keep evaluating them, but I'm just excited that we're demanding a little more aggressiveness out there and making the offense work for it," Dooley said in April. "We're going to challenge them and get our hands on the wideouts, but to do that you have to be extremely disciplined in your technique, because if you have a breakdown it could be a big play."
Corner was a position of struggle for UT last year. The Vols rotated a number of players at the position throughout the season and allowed 13 pass plays of 30 yards or more, sometimes because the opposing receiver was simply faster. UT was 10th in the SEC in passing efficiency defense despite decent yards-per-game numbers.
Waggner has started every game the past two seasons, but only two of those starts came at safety. Both Teague and Coleman lost their starting spots at points during the season for being victimized on long pass plays. Lanier was the lone corner to hold his starting spot throughout the year.
Though he's focused primarily on the nickelback position, Eric Gordon also could be in the mix. Newcomers Deion Bonner and Daniel Gray also could figure into the competition. Bonner was being recruited by most of the SEC prior to his arrest for his involvement in the theft of items from Georgia's athletic building last April.
"We've got four or five guys that we feel like we can go out there and play winning football," cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said in April, "but we don't feel like we've got enough guys being consistent all the time at corner.
"You've got plenty enough talent, but we don't have the reps in the system that everybody feels comfortable with going out there and communicating. We know the answers, but sometimes we get a little frayed to say the wrong answer."
Tickets for the Vols' 2012 opener in Atlanta against North Carolina on Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. go on sale this morning at 8:30. Fans can go to UTtix.com or call 1-800-332-VOLS. Tickets for road games at Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolia also will be available for purchase.
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 ...