'The Natural'

Three weeks ago he was a third-team wide receiver. Two days from now he'll be a starting cornerback against No. 11 Georgia.

The nature of Brent Vinson's transformation may not be unprecedented in Tennessee football history but the speed of his transformation probably is.

Former Vol safety Rashad Baker made a similar move in 2000. Like Vinson, Baker was seeing limited playing time as a freshman receiver. Like Vinson, Baker was moved to fill a glaring hole in the secondary. Like Vinson, Baker was starting at his new outpost in no time flat.

There's one significant difference between Vinson and Baker, however.

"Brent's coming along a lot faster than Rashad did," secondary coach Larry Slade said with a laugh. "There's a great sense of urgency. He still has a long ways to go but there's an urgency about him."

There's a sense of urgency among Tennessee's defensive staffers, too. That's why they convinced head coach Phillip Fulmer to move Vinson to defense shortly after first-team corner Antonio Gaines suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Game 2.

Whereas Baker played no defense prior to college, Vinson was a starter at both receiver and cornerback at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Va. In fact, he returned two interceptions for touchdowns as a senior.

"He was a talent, and we knew that corner probably was more his natural position," defensive coordinator John Chavis recalled. "We knew he could play over there (offense) but, after some injuries, we had to have him."

One week after moving from wideout to cornerback, Vinson came off the bench in relief of DeAngelo Willingham and played virtually every defensive down in Game 4 against Arkansas State.

"Vinson didn't start the game but he played every snap except the first four or five," Chavis recalled. "He's a guy who's very, very talented and he's going to be a really good football player for us."

Slade thought Vinson's performance against Arkansas State was amazing considering he'd been practicing at cornerback for just one week.

"It's pretty obvious with the way he played against Arkansas State and him starting this week that he's a natural," the Vol aide said. "He's very inexperienced obviously but he's making big improvements every day."

Fulmer has noticed, recently surmising that "Vinson has kind of been throw into it, and he's responded well."

At 6-2 and 190 pounds, Vinson has tremendous size for a cornerback. He also has exceptional speed and athleticism. All he lacks is some polish, particularly in terms of stopping the run.

"He's a corner, and we require our corners to tackle," Slade deadpanned. "But he'll get that part down."

Once he does, Tennessee should have itself one of the brightest young cornerback prospects in all of college football.

"Hopefully, he'll get better with every practice because he's a work in progress," Chavis said. "But if he continues to grow and do the things he needs to do, certainly I think he'll have a great career here."

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