Vol DBs are at peace

Larry Slade stopped looking for good-luck charms a long time ago. These days, all he's looking for is peace.

Of course, peace is hard to find in the stressful days leading up to a season opener, especially when you're the secondary coach at a major college program like Tennessee. There are so many things that can go wrong. For instance:

What if the opposing quarterback gets on a roll and throws for 350 yards? What if the opposing receivers are too fast for your defensive backs to cover? What if the front four musters no pass rush whatsoever? What if your guys bust some coverages and give up two or three cheap touchdowns? What if your safeties miss some crucial tackles, resulting in two or three more cheap touchdowns?

So how do Slade and his troops handle the pressure?

"The thing we talk about in our meetings all the time is that we want to come to an area of peace, an area where we are very confident," he said. "We're going to play hard but there's always that little bit of uncertainty: How's Antonio Gaines going to play? How's Eric Berry going to play? But, the way they've practiced, we're going to go out and play and we're going to play well."

The pressure on Slade & Company is magnified by the fact the Vols' Game 1 foe has a superior passing attack. Nate Longshore is one of the best quarterbacks Tennessee will face and California's receivers – led by All-American DeSean Jackson – rank with the best in college football.

Does that make peace harder to find?

"Certainly," Slade said. "It's always that way when you're playing an outstanding opponent the first game. But we're going to take the same approach we did last year: It's a team thing. We're going to get a tremendous pass rush and we're going to do the things that are necessary to stop ‘em."

Jackson led Cal in 2006 with 59 catches and 1060 yards, an average of 18.0 yards per catch. Lavelle Hawkins added 46 receptions for 605 yards (15.3 per catch) and Robert Jordan 46 for 561 (12.4 per catch).

"They make plays," Slade said. "You can't just zero in and say, ‘We're going to stop DeSean Jackson.' They've got those other two guys that are pretty good, too. They're going to get the ball to those guys. They're exceptionally quick with outstanding speed, so it's a tremendous challenge."

Vol free safety Jonathan Hefney is preparing for his fourth year as a starter but the other three secondary starters – Jarod Parrish, Antonio Gaines and Marsalous Johnson – have one start among them. The nickel back, Eric Berry, is a freshman who will be playing his first college game.

Despite the inexperience of Tennessee's secondary and the quality of Cal's passing attack, Vol defensive backs are at peace. Slade insists they are cool, calm and collected.

"I guarantee you," he said. "Come to my meetings. Our guys aren't too worried about anything. They're going out and play. They see DeSean as an outstanding player – they're not going to take anything away from him – but they're not going to fear anybody."


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