July 06, 2011
Good news has been a scarce commodity in Tennessee over the last, oh, going on about three-and-a-half years now, so take a few extra minutes to savor this one, Vol fans: All-conference safety Janzen Jackson has reenrolled in school and rejoined the football team after a five-month hiatus. His return may not come as a surprise to the optimists in the crowd, but it was hardly assured, either, after his abrupt departure to take care of "personal issues" in February spanned the rest of the semester — including the entirety of spring practice — with no clear end in sight.
Jackson has had his share of problems since unexpectedly spurning LSU for Knoxville two-and-a-half years ago, but his presence this fall is essential to keeping a young, beleaguered program still lacking veteran depth or leadership in its second season under coach Derek Dooley: He's a former five-star recruit with two seasons under his belt as a starter, he's just hitting the prime of his college career as a rising junior, and he's the only relatively hyped member of the much-hyped recruiting class Lane Kiffin lured to Knoxville in 2009 who's even made it that far. He was also the only Tennessee player voted All-SEC in 2010 — first or second team — by league coaches. All told, Jackson is the best player on the team, and he could have been gone for good.
Specifically, his return helps shore up a secondary that qualifies as the strongest unit on the depth chart thanks to four other vets — juniors Marsalis Teague and Prentiss Waggner, redshirt sophomore Eric Gordon and 23-year-old sophomore Brent Brewer — with regular starting experience. The rest of the defense? As of right now, the only returning starter at linebacker is out for at least part of the season with a fractured ankle and two of the few defensive linemen with any experience whatsoever are likely finished as Vols as a result of serial Achilles tendon injuries and undisclosed violations of team rules, respectively. So yeah, they still need all the help they can get.
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.