Long day for Gordon

Long after his teammates left the practice field, one Tennessee defensive back stayed behind to work on improving his reflexes and hands. It was exactly the kind of thing a senior leader should do.

The catch: Eric Gordon isn't a senior. He isn't even a junior. He's a redshirt freshman cornerback who was annoyed because he dropped some balls he thought he should've intercepted during Saturday's workout.

Gordon was so upset, in fact, that he convinced a student manager to stay after practice and throw tennis balls at him. Yep ... tennis balls. Hey, if you can catch a tiny tennis ball, you ought to be able to catch a big football, right?

To make the drill even tougher, Gordon stood with his back to the manager. Just as the player began turning to face him, the manager would fire a tennis ball, forcing Gordon to locate the ball, adjust to its flight and pluck it out of the air ... all in a fraction of a second.

Although he has looked really good at times in preseason camp, Gordon clearly was distressed when he finally came off the practice field on Saturday.

"I didn't make too many plays today," he said somberly. "I don't feel like I had a bad day but you've got to have thick skin playing corner. I'm going to have a great day tomorrow."

Based on the dedication he exhibited in Saturday's post-practice work, that's entirely possible.

"I'm just trying to get some extra work on catching the ball," he said. "Receivers can stop on a dime, so you need to be able to stop and turn with 'em, stuff like that."

Although he has yet to play a down in a college game, Gordon looms as a key figure for Tennessee's 2010 defense. That's because the Vols have lost three projected secondary starters - juniors Eric Berry and Dennis Rogan to the NFL Draft, plus sophomore Darren Myles to a disciplinary action. That three-punch combination leaves Gordon to pick up a lot of slack.

"That's what redshirting is all about," he said. "I understand what coming from the bottom feels like. It feels good to get my opportunity now, so I'm going to try and make the most of it."

Gordon is serving as mentor to a pair of wide receivers who joined the secondary ranks in the past week - fellow cornerback Marsalis Teague and safety Ted Meline - by offering tips and encouragement on a regular basis.

"I just try to teach them the little things," Gordon said. "At this level everybody's good, so it's all about the little things."

It's way to early to make realistic projections, of course, but Gordon thinks Teague and Meline show potential as defensive backs.

"They're coming on just fine," he said. "They grade out the least but a couple more practices and they'll get the hang of it, have it all down pat. Marsalis is my roommate, and I talk to Marsalis a lot ... about little things like being patient, staying low, keeping your eyes on the receiver's hips."

After working under Willie Mack Garza last fall, Vol defensive backs are learning from a new secondary coach this season - Terry Joseph. Gordon believes the first-year aide has Tennessee's youthful DBs making steady progress.

"It's just buying into the concepts, buying into what Coach is talking about and making sure we're all on the same page communicating," he said. "I think we've come a long way since spring.

"The defense was new to me and a lot of other guys, so I know we came a long way - breaking on balls and understanding what coverage we're in."


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