How eager thou Art

Already the "old man" of Tennessee's secondary, the aggravation of being withheld from spring practice may be aging him even more.

Eager doesn't begin to describe junior cornerback Art Evans these days. After starting 12 of 13 games last fall - he missed the Kentucky game due to injury - Evans is desperate to get on the field this spring. Until team trainers say his surgically repaired shoulder is 100 percent, though, he must be content to watch and wait.

"I feel like I could go right now," he said following Tuesday's practice, frowning impatiently. "But it's a process. Whenever my trainer says I can go, I'll be out there."

With just six workouts and the Orange & White Game remaining in spring practice, Evans is unlikely to suit up before preseason camp opens in August. That probably seems like an eternity for a guy who clearly is chomping at the bit.

"It's very frustrating to watch my teammates go through this," he said. "You feel like you accomplish something when you go through all of this, so I would love to be out there with them, competing every day. I just keep telling myself that it's going to be sooner than what I think."

Because Tennessee has a new head coach (Derek Dooley, a new defensive coordinator (Justin Wilcox), a new secondary coach (Terry Joseph) and a new defensive scheme, Evans' absence is slowing his adjustment to all of the above. That concerns him a bit.

"It's easy to sit down and say you learn the defense by watching," he said, "but it's different to get out there and actually go through it. I can't wait to get out there and run the plays."

In the meantime, the 6-0, 185-pounder from Lakeland, Fla., is soaking up every word Joseph speaks and trying to learn as much as he can by observing his fellow defensive backs in their workouts each day. UT coaches want him involved in practice mentally, even if cannot be involved physically.

"That's the thing about mental reps, and that's what the coaches keep stressing that I get," Evans said. "You can see a lot and, at the same time, I can let the young guys know what I saw, so they can apply it to their game. Then I go home and write it down, so I can study it myself."

Although he impressed Tennessee's 2009 coaches enough to earn 12 starts, Evans feels pressure to prove himself again for the 2010 aides. He's confident he'll do just that once he's cleared to participate in practice, though.

"It (performance) will speak for itself when you get out there," he said.

Veteran Vols say Tennessee's defensive scheme for 2010 is simpler than the 2008 and 2009 schemes. If so, that should help Evans catch up quickly once he's cleared to go full-speed.

"That will help a lot," he said. "When there's a lot going on, there's a lot of thinking, and that causes a lot of mistakes. When the coaches break it down and simplify it for you, you can just go out and play ball. That will be a great thing."

The departure of rising seniors Eric Berry and Dennis Rogan for the NFL Draft leaves Tennessee seriously inexperienced in the secondary. Suddenly, Evans finds himself the closest thing the defensive backfield has to a grizzled veteran. Knowing this, he's looking to provide leadership, as well as tackles and pass breakups.

"I feel like it changes my role because I know when I was not playing, I was looking up to the guys like Jonathan Hefney and Marsalous (Johnson) when they were starting," Evans said. "It's a lot different. It's not just a role. I have to back it up, so they (younger DBs) can look at it and say, 'OK, I see what he's talking about it, and I'll follow a guy like that' like I did with Eric Berry."

Based on what Evans has seen in practice this spring, Tennessee's new secondary scheme will enable DBs to play more aggressively than in the recent past.

"We actually get a chance to make a lot of plays at corner," he said. "That's going to be the biggest thing. That'll be fine, making plays when our chance comes."

With Berry and Rogan gone and Evans sidelined, however, Tennessee is painfully young in the secondary at present. Evans concedes that there are some growing pains ahead.

"We've all got a long way to go, as a unit," he said. "We don't want to be complacent. We're not satisfied and we're going to keep working. We've got two big-time players (Berry, Rogan) that left us, so we've got a lot of guys that need to step up and make plays.

"That's what the game is all about."


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