DBs must bounce back

Tennessee secondary coach Terry Joseph isn't worried that this Saturday's opponent, UAB, passed for 376 yards last weekend vs. Troy.

Joseph isn't worried that the Blazers drove 99 yards - all on passes - in the final 1:09 and won on a 44-yard Hail Mary at the final gun.

Joseph isn't worried that UAB senior Frantrell Forrest ranks third on the school's all-time receiving list but can't crack the Blazers' starting lineup this year.

Joseph isn't even worried that UAB platoons two quarterbacks with diverse skill sets - drop-back passer Bryan Ellis and scrambler David Isabelle.

Instead, Joseph figures his most pressing concern is getting a bunch of talented but unproven Vol defensive backs performing like grizzled veterans. Although Tennessee limited Florida to 167 passing yards last weekend, the Gators picked apart the Vols on third down - competing a 16-yard pass on third and 15, a 16-yard pass on third and 11, a 14-yard pass on third and 8, a 12-yard pass on third and 9 and an 8-yard pass on third and 8.

"We weren't aggressive in coverage," Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said this week. "We never denied them the ball."

Correcting that problem has been Joseph's primary goal in practice this week.

"Mostly, we've got to get ourselves better and focus on the fundamentals, especially coming out of the last game," the secondary coach said. "We had a lot of situations where we could've had some success - especially on third down - but we didn't execute. This game is more about us, getting better on our techniques and fundamentals."

Tennessee's secondary outlook went from awesome to awful between the end of 2009 and the start of 2010. First, three-year starter Eric Berry and two-year starter Dennis Rogan elected to bypass their senior seasons in favor of the NFL Draft. Then first-team safety Darren Myles was dismissed from the team in July.

All of the attrition has left Tennessee with a starting secondary consisting of a junior (Art Evans) and three sophomores (Janzen Jackson, Prentiss Waggner and converted wideout Marsalis Teague). The top reserve is redshirt freshman Eric Gordon. The glaring lack of experience makes their growing pains more understandable but no less frustrating.

"Obviously, we still have a long ways to go," Joseph said. "We're still making mistakes and, hopefully, we continue to learn from our mistakes. But, overall, we're getting snaps. That's important because the way these guys are going to get better is through experience."

Adapting to the speed of college football is difficult for young defensive backs. Learning schemes and techniques they didn't have to know in high school is difficult, too. Still, those aren't the most critical lessons a DB faces at the college level.

"The toughest lesson a young defensive back must learn is to play one play at a time," Joseph said. "With so much no-huddle, the plays happen fast. So, good, bad or indifferent, you've got to put the last play behind you and go on to the next one. As a young DB, you can't sulk. You've got to go on to the next play."

So, how are Tennessee's youthful defensive backs doing in this area?

Flashing a pained grin, Joseph replied: "It's a work in progress."

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