Rejuvenated Coe

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas cornerback Michael Coe wasn't sure if he was going to fit into defensive coordinator Reggie Herring's plans this season.

After all, Coe plummeted to the bottom of the post-spring depth chart after starting six games in 2004. He was outperformed by teammates Darius Vinnett, Chris Houston and Matterral Richardson. Coe even lost ground to Michael Grant, who missed most of the spring because of track and field duties.

It got so bad that Coe faced the possibility of switching positions, auditioning for a two-way role as cornerback/receiver the last week of spring drills.

"It affected him," strong safety Vickiel Vaughn, Coe's roommate, said about the spring. "It made him question himself and question his capabilities and things of that nature. He kind of would look at himself and wonder if he was good enough to play." But all of Coe's doubts have been eliminated the past couple weeks.

The 6-foot-1, 186-pounder is back in familiar territory, working with the first-team defense as the Hogs prepare for the Sept. 3 season opener against Missouri State. Coe slipped into the spot after a rash of minor injuries to defensive backs during the first week of practice, has held onto it and doesn't intend to let go. He tried to prove that last Saturday, turning in the biggest highlight of Arkansas' Fan Day scrimmage in Razorback Stadium. Coe intercepted a Cole Barthel pass, dodged tacklers and darted into the end zone with a 92-yard touchdown return. "I feel like I've matured a lot since the spring and that has been the biggest difference," Coe said. "I've learned to handle things. I think I grew up a little as a man and it kind of rolled over into football and everything else. "I don't think I had a bad spring. Mentally, I just let things get to me. I should've been one of the people encouraging other guys instead of getting down on myself."

The frustrated cornerback said he experienced a rebirth, of sorts, when he took a trip to Florida in late May. Disappointed by the spring, Coe followed advice from friends and family, packed his bags and took a one-week trip to visit his brother. Coe said it was a great idea. In addition to relaxing with family, he got a chance to work out with Miami Hurricanes players during their off-season conditioning drills. He also gleaned wisdom from Miami alums and NFL stars like Baltimore safety Ed Reed and Indianapolis running back Edgerrin James, who were in town working out as well. "Everybody will tell you that Miami will have some of the best defensive backs," said Arkansas cornerbacks coach Bobby Allen. "Miami will have some of the best receivers and the best speed. He worked out with those guys in their summer workouts, came back and said, 'Coach, I can lock them down. I can play with them.' "I think that's when the maturity and confidence began to rise in him. He's always been coachable, but he started to believe in himself." Said Coe: "I guess it was a boost of confidence. I was able to get my head straight, I was able to get re-focused. That was a big thing." Coe, who said he's 20 hours shy of his degree, also took a break from school and didn't enroll in summer classes for the first time in his career. Instead, he concentrated on football, studied film and worked out with teammates. Vaughn said the difference was noticeable when practice began. "He went out of town, basically, to clear his mind and get himself right and ready and came back," Vaughn said. "Since he's been back, he's been a different person. "He's been more determined to prove himself."

The summer turnaround was impressive enough for Allen to call Coe his biggest surprise this presason. Herring said the cornerback has "warranted a starting job." In fact, Coe -- along with Johnson -- has impressed the hard-to-please Herring so much that the coach moved Richardson from cornerback to free safety this week. Richardson's departure leaves the Hogs counting on Coe's athleticism and experience in a rotation that includes Grant, Vinnett and Houston. He's also emerged as a leading candidate to return punts this season and has quieted talk about working at wide receiver. "Coach Nutt came up to me the other day after the game," Coe said. "He said, 'Man, I guess I can't get you on offense anymore. I talked to coach Herring and he won't let you go now. They really like your ball skills at corner.'" That was the type of impression Coe was hoping to make after the spring.

Allen said the athletic defensive back, whose father, Charles, is a coach at Alabama State, has always been a student of the game. But he said Coe has matured tremendously, learned how to handle adversity and even added a competitive streak. There's no doubt it has helped Coe earn an important role this seasson.

"He's always had some physical tools," Allen said. "He's got nice size. He's always had the work ethic. But now, the maturity level has risen. His competition level, his effort level has gone up. When he's doing that, he gives himself a chance to play. "When he's competing and firing on all cylinders, he's a guy that I can count on."

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