Vols trying to piece together secondary

InsideTennessee provides readers with the most comprehensive Vols coverage this spring. Scroll down to read a notebook packed with all the latest newsworthy items from practice No. 4.

Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek likens the Vols' secondary to a puzzle, saying he's using spring practice as a time to shuffle pieces around to find the best fit.

"We're trying to find the pieces that work together that gives us the best combination of speed, knowledge and playmaking ability in the back end of our defense," Jancek told InsideTennessee.

The biggest shuffle in the secondary early this spring has been Justin Coleman shifting inside to the nickelback position after starting every game last season at cornerback.

Walk-on Devaun Swafford – who has permanently moved to safety in an effort to add speed at the back end – and former walk-on JaRon Toney split time in the nickel last fall and experienced some troubles.

Jancek said Coleman's physicality and size make him well suited for the position, which entails covering slot receivers, tight ends and aiding in stopping the run.

"(Coleman's) got improved size. I like the way that he can run and cover No. 2 receivers," Jancek said. "And when he gets his hands on guys he's able to move them out of the stem of the route. Those things are really positive."

Jancek said it's been a relatively smooth transition process for Coleman.

Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez agrees, saying he believes Coleman's knowledge of Tennessee's defensive scheme will serve the Vols well in the fall.

"He just knows how we do things," Martinez said of Coleman.

Freshman D'Andre Payne will back up Coleman at nickelback. Jancek said he's mostly been pleased with the early enrollee this spring, but adds that he still has a "ways to go."

"I like the way he picks up on things. He makes mistakes here and there," Jancek told IT. "But for the most part, for a true freshman who just got here in January, he's progressed very well. I like some of the things he's doing."

The Vols may have found their nickelback, but now attention is turned to the other cornerback position left vacant.

Sophomore Malik Foreman and freshman Emmanuel Moseley have been rotating with the first team defense at that spot.

Moseley, who was widely considered an under-the-radar recruit, comes in with size concerns at 165 pounds.

But Moseley gained the attention of Tennessee coaches during a camp last fall by clocking back-to-back sub 4.4 forty-yard dash times.

And according to Jancek, his speed continues to impress – enough so that he deems the newcomer a "very realistic" candidate to start for the Vols .

"Another true freshman (possibly) starting at corner in the back end of our defense, but I like Emmanuel a lot," Jancek said. "He's picked up things well for a true freshman. He just needs to get in the weight room and get bigger and stronger."

Foreman, a Tennessee native, tallied one interception and 10 tackles in nine games last season.

Martinez said he's seen "promising things" from Foreman so far, but warns that it's too early to start penciling guys in the two-deep because of youth.

Most forget, Martinez says, that this is the first taste of spring practice in the SEC for Foreman, Sutton, Moseley, Swafford and Payne.

Martinez obviously wishes his secondary holstered more depth and experience, but is taking a "glass half full" approach to the competition between so many youngsters vying for starting spots.

"We're still nowhere near where we want to be as far as depth goes," Martinez told IT. "But like I told them, what a great opportunity because we don't have enough depth. You know, you're getting an opportunity every single day – every time you take a rep."

Von wows again

Another practice, another highlight-reel catch.

JUCO transfer wide receiver Von Pearson faced Foreman in a one-on-one drill and made a one-handed, leaping catch in the corner of the end zone to score. He made a similar catch last week.

Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni says he continues to be pleased with Pearson's efforts this spring, adding that he "loves" the newcomer's attitude.

"Von has endless energy," Azzanni said "…I'm not sure Von has an off switch, which is a good thing. He just doesn't have a bad day. He's a glass half full kind of kid and we all love to be around someone like that."

While Azzanni said circus catches in practice have become expected from Pearson, he says the 6-foot-3, 181-pounder could still be more consistent.

"It's only because he doesn't know what he's doing yet," Azzanni said. "The game is still fast for him. He's ultra-talented, there's no doubt about it."

Azzanni also said Pearson isn't a very crisp route runner, but is optimistic that'll change with time.

Size no issue for Hurd

<A HREF=//tennessee.scout.com/a.z?s=7&p=8&c=1&nid=7550520><A HREF=//tennessee.scout.com/a.z?s=7&p=8&c=1&nid=7550518>Justin Coleman</A></A>
Doubters say Jalen Hurd is too tall to play running back in college.

Robert Gillespie doesn't want to hear it.

Tennessee's running backs coach joked that he doesn't get on a chair to coach the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Hurd, nor did he "Google" how to coach tall running backs before he arrived.

"He's a nature bender," Gillespie said. "He's had no problems with it. He's an athlete."

As to be excepted from a freshman, Gillespie said Hurd's head is "spinning a little bit" from all the new terminology, but adds that he sees great potential in the in-state product.

"I think the things he's going to be able to do before he leaves here is huge," Gillespie told IT.

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Mike Bajakian, per university

John Jancek, per university

Highlights from Practice 4

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