When given the opportunity, Tennessee secondary coach Terry Joseph has no problem talking a little smack to the team's wide receivers.
Second-year safety Brent Brewer made it easy for Joseph to do just that throughout the spring and again in Saturday's Orange and White game.
At a cut and imposing 212 pounds in UT's secondary, Brewer is Joseph's "bandit" safety, the one who a receiver is always looking for out of the corner of his eye before he crosses the middle.
"When you've got a guy down there who can lay the wood a little bit . . . they know he's roaming a little bit," Joseph said. "I tell them they don't realize when Prentiss (Waggner) is back there but when Brewer's back there, it's a little different."
Perhaps there was no more fitting recipient of UT's "Big Lick" Award, given to the players who played with most physical toughness during the spring, than Brewer. He, along with three other Vols, picked up the award at halftime Saturday and then - playing for the Orange team - finished the scrimmage with a team-high seven tackles. The White team won, 24-7.
It was a strong end to a spring in which Brewer was constantly praised for his work ethic and physical presence. In a UT secondary that's low on size and could go through a drastic transition when seven newcomers arrive in June, he's the closest thing to a stabilizing force.
The offseason just couldn't have been much worse.
Brewer served a five-week suspension from all team activities after he was arrested in February on domestic abuse charges. When the charges were reduced to "offensive touching" and he was placed on judicial diversion shortly before spring practice, Brewer was back with the team, but the month-plus away from his teammates was a struggle.
"It was bad," Brewer said Saturday in his first interview since the arrest. "I just learned a lot of life lessons. I just know to keep myself focused and don't let anything bring me down. Stay strong."
Though he was in constant contact with his coaches during his suspension, Brewer had no access to any of the resources UT provides to its athletes. That, of course, included the weight room, so Brewer had to do his own thing while the rest of his teammates were raving to him about the progress they were making under new strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery.
Brewer wasn't completely without a UT connection when he worked out daily at the student activities center, as he trained with former Vols walk-on Matt Wegzyn and a number of the gym's regulars.
Whatever he was doing, even if it was completely different from what McKeefery was having the other safeties do, it worked.
"If anybody can stay away from that amount of time and come back and play, he's probably one of the guys that can do it," Joseph said. "He's going to get better and better, too."
Brewer, at 23, is one of the oldest Vols, but his experience among UT's defensive players is as raw as anyone's. A former professional baseball player, Brewer arrived at UT last July, slowly worked his way into the rotation, took advantage of a few injuries in the secondary and started the final six games. He was occasionally lost on passing plays, but was a solid presence against the run, a trait in his game that has only grown stronger over time.
Coach Derek Dooley, who has been quick to praise the safety throughout the spring, said he still doesn't know what to expect from Brewer in 2011.
"What's his stamina? Can he play like that for 12 games?" Dooley asked. "He was extremely disruptive our first scrimmage and disappeared in our second scrimmage. That's very common for young players.
"He's young even though he's old. It's very important we don't get enamored with flashes."
Brewer admitted Saturday that nothing in four years of baseball could truly prepare him for the grind of a football season or the recent tumult of the offseason.
"It puts a toll on your body," Brewer said. "I'm just going to keep working hard and get to that point where I can go every day and be consistent."