A 'star' is born

One Tennessee football player has gone from doghouse to star the past few months. Sign in or subscribe now for the details.

After filling a supporting role for Tennessee's 2011 football team, Eric Gordon could play a starring role in 2012 ... literally.

Gordon spent spring practice working at the so-called "star" position in new coordinator Sal Sunseri's defensive scheme. Similar to nickel back, it's a position that enables Gordon to do a little bit of everything.

"Man, I'm blitzing ... I'm covering guys. You never know what we're doing out there," he said recently, literally beaming. "It's a very versatile position. It's a very tough position but it suits me pretty well."

Gordon, a rising junior from Nashville, believes the new scheme suits him pretty well, too. It certainly fits his gung-ho personality better than last fall's read-and-react scheme.

"Everything's so aggressive," he said of Sunseri's scheme. "It's not laid-back. It's an in-your-face, no-gain, swarming type of defense."

In addition to a new role and a new scheme, Gordon is adjusting to a new position coach this year. Derrick Ansley now coaches Vol cornerbacks, succeeding Terry Joseph, who left for a spot on Nebraska's staff. To say Gordon is happy about the change might be the understatement of the spring.

"I bend my knees every night and every morning for that," he said. "It's truly a blessing."

Simply put, Gordon and Joseph did not see eye to eye last season. Exhibit A: Gordon essentially won Game 11 against Vanderbilt by returning an interception for a touchdown in overtime, yet he did not play a single snap one week later in Game 12 at Kentucky.

Vol cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley has big plans for 'star' Eric Gordon.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
"I feel like I've got a very fresh start," Gordon said. "I feel like we all do. I feel like we've all got to prove ourselves each and every day."

Ansley seems to have a much higher regard for Gordon than his predecessor did.

Describing his progress from the beginning of spring practice to the end as "night and day," Ansley added: "From what I've seen in the cut-ups, he's a really, really strong competitor. He likes to compete, he's a physical guy, he's an explosive guy. He's a good blitzer, he can cover, he's got good balance. He's going to be a really good player for us."

At 5-feet-9 and 197 pounds, Gordon is Tennessee's most rugged defensive back. It shows in the ultra-physical way he plays, especially in press coverage when he's lined up at cornerback.

"I've pretty much got that mastered," he said. "I feel like that's one of my strong points. That's pretty much always been my style of play, my game. It comes natural to me."

One knock on Gordon has been that he sometimes becomes too aggressive, taking unnecessary gambles. He suggests what some call gambles are merely calculated risks.

"I wouldn't gamble if I didn't have (safety) help behind me," he said. "I'm very cautious of what I'm doing out there. You've got to gamble at the defensive back position. You've got to stop a guy when you don't know where he's going but I would never do that without knowing my safety is behind me."

Ansley says gambling wasn't much of a problem for Gordon during the spring.

"He's buying into being more disciplined," the cornerbacks coach said. "He may go out there and peak (at the quarterback) once or twice; that's when the coach needs to come down with the hammer and make sure he doesn't do it any more."

Gordon says the need to gamble isn't as great as it once was. He believes two years of college ball has taught him to anticipate what will happen, so he doesn't have to guess what will happen.

"Instincts is the difference," he said. "I've been in a lot of situations, so you can fool me once but not twice. I've been in situations, so I recognize coverages and formations. It gives me a head start on things."

Gordon also believes he is reacting more quickly now that he's learning Ansley's approach to coverage techniques.

"It's a lot different," the player said. "It's a lot more detail, a lot more specifics. Once you get them down pat, you can react a lot faster."

Whatever the reasons, Gordon projects to play a much bigger role in 2012 than he did in 2011 ... at cornerback and at the star position.

"He's working at both," Ansley said. "He's doing a really good job of trying to learn both positions. He's a really good star and he's a really good guy at press (corner) because he's really strong, really physical, a real compact kind of guy. He can excel at both positions."

Eric Gordon (24)

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