Tennessee Stat Book
The honeymoon period for Brent Brewer is over.
Instead of taking questions solely about his transition from minor league baseball back to football, the freshman safety has emerged as one of the lone, healthy and stable voices to speak about the state of Tennessee's secondary, which has seen better days.
Expectations for the 22-year-old Brewer have quickly become high just three games after he took over as a full-time starter against South Carolina.
And he's largely living up to them.
Brewer led UT with eight tackles against Ole Miss, and has 20 during the past four games.
"He doesn't make the same mistake twice," coach Derek Dooley said. "When you see that, the more he sees, the more he plays, the more he gets experience, he's going to keep getting better and better and we've seen that every week."
Brewer, after slowly knocking the rust off from four years away from the football field, saw extended playing time against Alabama on Oct. 23 because of the Crimson Tide's penchant to run double tight end sets. He finished with six tackles and drew rave reviews - with a hearty dose of constructive criticism, of course - and found himself in the starting lineup the very next week when Prentiss Waggner switched to cornerback.
With Art Evans indefinitely suspended, Marsalis Teague missing two games with a turf toe injury and Eric Gordon missing chunks of time because of concussions, Brewer's reliability has proved not only to be a pleasant surprise, but vital in keeping the turbulence within the secondary at a relative minimum.
"The way he's progressed has been critical," Dooley said after Tuesday's practice. "Everybody who's playing pretty good has been huge."
In his early action, Brewer, who definitely looks the part of a safety at a solid 205 pounds, took some noticeably poor angles on tackles and had no trouble admitting it afterward. He appears to have fixed that problem, but said the quick, on-your-feet thinking required to properly defend passes is still a work in progress.
"He's always trying to figure out the new things because his football IQ isn't all the way like a person that has been playing football all these years," fellow safety Janzen Jackson said. "He's catching onto stuff and he's coming along very well. He's very smart."
Concussion Junction: Wide receiver Zach Rogers took one step forward at Tuesday's practice in his recovery from the concussion he suffered against Ole Miss, but Gordon did not, Dooley said.
"He's not doing that anymore," said Dooley, motioning his arm upward to recreate a line graph. "So we'll see how he is tomorrow."
Gordon suffered a concussion in the second quarter against Ole Miss and did not return. He also sustained a "light concussion" at some point during the South Carolina game on Oct. 30.
Gordon, who did not wear a red, non-contact jersey while Rogers did, said he "took another hit" at Tuesday's practice, but vowed to play Saturday (CSS, 7:30 p.m.) back in his hometown of Nashville against Vanderbilt.
"When I'm on the field, I'm just reacting. I'm out there playing," Gordon said. "I'm not thinking about an injury or nothing like that. It's not affecting me in any way right now."
Fulton Fix: Right guard Zach Fulton (ankle) performed well Tuesday, Dooley said, and "there's a good chance he can get settled back in at right guard."
With Fulton back at his position, Dooley said senior Jarrod Shaw would move back to left guard and rotate with redshirt freshman JerQuari Schofield.
Inside Out: The Vols attempted to practice outside Tuesday, but were forced to move indoors because of sloppy conditions caused by mid-afternoon rains.
"I didn't want any groin pulls," Dooley said. "I wanted to get a good practice in."
Dooley said the close proximity of Haslam Field to the indoor practice facility allowed the transition to go smoothly, and it may have even energized the players.
"As long as the spirits are up and they're hitting and they're popping and competing in those team periods when you go against the defense, then you can live with it," he said. "And then you need to polish up that execution on Wednesday."