UT Secondary

Jabari Greer says his first season in the NFL was an ``eye-opening experience.''

The former Tennessee cornerback learned the talent he faced in the SEC helped prepare him for pro ball. He learned a few techniques about breaking on the ball.

And the free agent signee learned the NFL encourages more gambling out of its cornerbacks than does Tennessee.

At least, that was Greer's take after one season with the Buffalo Bills.

``My defensive coordinator, Jerry Gray, was an ex-cornerback for the Oilers,'' Greer said during an interview on the Halls Salvage Sports Source. ``He's a guy about making plays. Do your assignment first, then make plays.

``Turnovers are golden in the NFL.'' Greer said UT secondary coach Larry Slade was more interested in not giving up big plays, rather than making big plays.

``He was more of a textbook coach,'' Greer said. ``He taught us how not to lose our job. But as far as making big plays and gambling – which you have to do to be a successful cornerback – I don't think we got the right direction we might have needed.''

Greer said UT wants its corners to play conservatively. He said history and statistics support his argument.

``Tennessee cornerbacks are held to one, two, three interceptions in a year,'' Greer said. ``Three is a good year for a Tennessee cornerback.''

Indeed, UT cornerbacks haven't ranked high in interceptions. Terry Fair had five in 1997 and four in 1996. DeRon Jenkins had five in 1993. Preston Warren had five in 1988. In 2000, the team leader in interceptions had two – and Steve Marsh was a safety. In 1994, cornerback Ronald Davis led the Vols with two interceptions.

Greer said the fact that Tennessee blitzes so much makes it harder for corners to get picks. Slade agrees with that, but he's not so sure Greer is on target with his other assessments. Slade thinks turnovers are golden also, but he does preach: Do your assignment first, then make a play.

``Whether it's college football or the NFL, you can't give up big plays,'' Slade said. ``If you give up a lot of big plays in the NFL, you won't have a job. That applies to Tennessee.'' Slade said there are plays to be made ``if you understand the concept'' in the UT system.

``I'm not interested in a guy that's going to make a few big plays and give up a few big plays,'' Slade said. ``If a guy grades out 90 percent and gives up a couple of big plays, you still lose the game.

``We're interested in guys making plays. That's the deal. But we do it within the context of the defense. We went through a year here with some guys doing their own thing and gambling and I think it cost us some games.

``We've coached corners who've had 9, 10 interceptions. So this thing about being overly conservative -- no.''

Slade said the top priority of Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy is to stop big plays. ``I asked Tony Dungy one time why he played his free safety so deep,'' Slade said. ``He said, `I play the free safety deep for the one time they try to throw it deep and he's that backstop.' We play our guy 12 yards deep and he's got his 15 yards deep.

``As you go around the league, you've got the same purpose – stop the big play. If you're busting coverages in the NFL, you won't have a job. If you're giving up big plays in the NFL, you won't have a job.''

Slade agrees that defenses get more interceptions playing a zone. But that's not the style of defensive coordinator John Chavis, who likes to blitz and force the action.

``When you're playing man to man, what you find is your completion percentage goes down but the interceptions rate is not as good,'' Slade said. Slade said the measuring stick for a secondary isn't just interceptions.

``Successful secondaries are the ones that give up very few big plays and don't give up touchdowns,'' he said.

Slade said that, when he was at Texas A&M, the secondary one season allowed just three touchdown passes in 12 games.

Slade recalls a recent season when the Vols had veterans up front but a young secondary. He said Texas A&M had a similar situation two years ago. The Aggies gave up 70 points in one game to Oklahoma. The Vols avoided such a disaster.

``We gave up rushing yards, but we didn't give up a lot of big plays,'' Slade said. ``That's the deal. Stay away from big plays and you've got a chance to win games.''

* Slade said he expects All-SEC Jason Allen, a Playboy preseason All-American, to play some safety, even though he's been moved to cornerback.

``We've been fortunate around here to have a Jason Allen and guys like that who can play both positions,'' Slade said. ``We'll get Jason some reps at safety. Our objective is to get the best four players out there. If that means Jason is one of the four best players at safety, that might be the case.''

* Slade said he ``feels pretty good'' about the safety position.

He said he's encouraged by Antwan Stewart and the ``leaps and bounds improvement'' of Corey Campbell. He also said converted cornerback Jonathan Hefney ``did some good things'' and Jarod Parish ``made strides.''

Slade likes the incoming freshmen, including Demetrius Morely, Adam Myers-White and Antonio Wardlow.

``We feel athletically we're going to be pretty good,'' Slade said. ``We're looking forward to it.''


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