April 3, 2012

Competition abounds at corner

Since Derek Dooley's arrival in Knoxville two years ago a constant message has been building depth, something the Vols have lacked at virtually every position his first two years.

But, after three strong recruiting classes, the roster is starting to look a little fuller. One place where it's noticeably fuller is at cornerback. abounds

The Vols return five players that started a game at either corner or nickelback from a defense that finished No. 12 in the nation in passing defense, although passing efficiency defense was ranked 48.

But, even with the return of Prentiss Waggner, Izauea Lanier, Justin Coleman, Marsalis Teague and Eric Gordon, Dooley still sees a lot of room for improvement for the group.

"We've got more bodies in the secondary, but there's a lot of bodies that have skills sets, let me say it that way," Dooley said. "But we're not very good back there, and we've got a lot of work to do in learning how to play technique, learning how to play the coverages, but the good thing is there is a lot of bodies that have a chance."

Technique has been the main focus of first-year cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley according to most defensive backs, including Lanier who started nine games last season.

"The main focus he's been teaching us is technique. He's not worried about speed or none of that, mainly technique. We've been doing a lot drills that will help us develop as corners," Lanier said.

Along with technique, Ansley has brought a clean-slate mentality, something all the corners are happy to see.

"It's definitely great to have a fresh start. I just take a deep breath. I'm just glad to get out here with these guys and just have these new coaches and there's a lot of opportunity," Gordon said. "I'm just glad to have this opportunity."

At every opportunity there is competition with such a crowded secondary. In situations such as these, when there are numerous players competing for just a few spots, the players know each rep is evaluated.

"These guys are very competitive so every little rep I get I do it to the fullest because we're all competing. So, it's not going to be easy," Lanier said.

Competition seems to be the early theme for the cornerbacks group just five practices in, with numerous players commenting on the competitive environment.

"I see that everyday. Everyday we're competing for a position because everybody wants to play so that's how it is," Coleman said.

Added Gordon, "It's so competitive out here because everybody's so talented and trying to get better so it's very high competition."

But, in the midst of the competition the players are trying to learn the new defensive system. While it doesn't look pretty at times, the corners are starting to pick it up.

"I feel like everybody in the secondary is picking it up. We were making plenty of mistakes, but we're getting better and getting it right," Coleman said. "We're just going to do our best to help this defense and the team."

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