Wade makes the grade

The most pleasant surprise on Tennessee's football team this season – hands down – is junior cornerback Jonathan Wade.

Because he began his career at receiver and missed spring practice each year to run track, Wade's development has been frustratingly slow. He opened this season as the chief backup to Roshaun Fellows at left corner but overtook him and won the starting job for Game 4 against Ole Miss.

Wade returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown that day versus the Rebels, then came back a week later with a 34-yard interception return to the Georgia 1-yard line. Going into today's game at Alabama the guy probably ranks Tennessee's best cover corner AND its best offensive weapon.

"The big thing Jonathan has been able to do is go out under the lights and do the job," secondary coach Larry Slade said this week. "He's done it in practice but to go out and perform when the lights are on has been a big-time boost for his confidence."

Tennessee's defensive coordinator also touched on the confidence theme.

"A lot of it goes back to confidence – us having confidence in him doing the right thing and him having confidence in his abilities," John Chavis said. "The ability's always been there. From the ability standpoint, he's probably as talented as anybody we have in the secondary. But it starts with his confidence and us having the confidence he's going to do the things we ask him to do."

Wade's confidence should be at an all-time high after his eye-catching efforts in Games 4 and 5. Still, Chavis says the 6-0, 185-pound speedster has plenty of room for improvement.

"He's done fine the last two games; he's headed in the right direction," the coordinator said. "But he needs to learn to be more physical, which he has been. He's tried to step up and do that. He's made good progress. He's just got to continue to grow."

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