Ready or not?

The Orange team's high-powered passing attack was supposed to carry the day in Tennessee's recent spring game. It didn't.

One reason it didn't was the surprising play of Justin Coleman, a mid-term freshman from Brunswick, Ga. Most observers figured there was no way the White team's 5-10, 172-pound rookie cornerback could contain towering Orange receivers such as 6-4 Justin Hunter and 6-5 Matt Milton.

Coleman did precisely that, however, recording 3 tackles and 2 pass breakups in helping the White post a 24-7 victory. His defining moment came late in the second quarter. With the Orange on the White 20-yard line, quarterback Tyler Bray threw a fade route to Hunter in the left corner of the end zone. Coleman arrived just as the ball did, however, and broke up the play. Unconvinced, Bray tried another fade to Hunter in the left corner on the very next play. Coleman shut down that one, too.

Perhaps the greatest testament to Coleman's ability is the fact his fellow defensive backs have noticed the rookie's athleticism and determination.

"Justin Coleman is doing very good," junior cornerback Marsalis Teague said. "He's got a real knack for the game, and I love the way he plays. He's very aggressive and physical. He's not afraid to come up there and tackle. Coming in as a freshman, that speaks a lot for him, jumping into the SEC. Coleman's doing real good out there."

Junior safety Prentiss Waggner echoed those sentiments.

"Justin Coleman's looking real good," he said. "He's coming along and getting his plays down real good. When Coach is asking him questions in the meeting he's answering 'em pretty fast.

"We (fellow DBs) are encouraging him. He's an explosive guy. He's a tremendous athlete. That's one thing that stands out. Once he gets the plays down he'll be able to play even faster. He's going to be a good player here."

The key words in that sentence are "going to be," of course. Freshmen - even mature and talented freshmen - face a steep learning curve before they're ready to play major-college football.

Secondary coach Terry Joseph says that learning curve is Coleman's biggest challenge at present.

"It's hard for him because, as the playbook grows, he kind of slows down a little bit," Joseph said. "You expect that out of a freshman. He's done a great job this spring but he realizes how big of an adjustment it is from high school to football at this level.

"He's going to be fine over time as he becomes more comfortable - not only with this system but playing at this speed every single snap. Every player he goes against is as good as him or better, so the margin for error is not much. He's had a great spring - I can't be happier with him - but he knows it's a lot different than being in Brunswick, Georgia."

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