Slade's smiling again

No one wore a bigger smile following Saturday night's Tennessee football scrimmage than secondary coach Larry Slade, and with good reason. After committing several assignment errors that led to big plays in scrimmage No. 1, his defensive backs redeemed themselves a bit in scrimmage No. 2.

"Those guys got better during the week," Slade noted, "so I wasn't surprised by how they played."

He may not have been surprised but he had to be encouraged. After surrendering 26 completions in 40 attempts (65 percent) for 402 yards in scrimmage No. 1, the Slade Brigade limited Tennessee's quarterbacks to 23 of 41 passing (56 percent) for just 326 yards on Saturday night.

"They're starting to play more as a unit," Slade said. "Antwan (Stewart) and Jonathan (Hefney) are still learning but they're a lot more comfortable than they were last week."

Strong safety Stewart and free safety Hefney recorded interceptions in scrimmage No. 2. Stewart picked off an Erik Ainge throw and returned it probably 40 yards. Hefney made a nice break on a Rick Clausen throw to register another "Oskie."

"It's always good to see guys make plays," Slade said. "But the big issue is that we've got to STOP big plays. We're getting better at that. We're getting a lot better at that, and we're happy with the progress."

After appearing somewhat shell-shocked in scrimmage No. 1, Vol defensive backs showed more poise in scrimmage No. 2. The only big touchdown pass they allowed was a 41-yarder from Rick Clausen to Lucas Taylor … and that was the result of a great throw and a great catch.

"When you play man coverage against good people, there's a chance you'll give up big plays," Slade noted. "The receiver (Taylor) made a great play, so we just go line up again."

Despite the lumps his crew took in the first scrimmage, Slade believes this year's secondary has a chance to be very good.

"Certainly," he said. "They're a tough group. They've got great speed. Man! I'm really happy with where we are. There's a sense of urgency. We still have a ways to go but I really believe we're on the right track."

Freshman Demetrice Morley has made significant strides in the past 10 days and could see action at safety in the Sept. 3 opener. He also has the speed to help at corner, if needed. Slade doesn't foresee that happening anytime soon, though.

"We're going to put our best athletes out there," the Vol aide said, "but right now we're just trying to teach him safety."

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