Jim Chaney: What the Vols need to improve before Cincinnati
There weren't enough stern lectures throughout spring camp and the preseason to prepare cornerback Justin Coleman for the repercussions of his first on-field blunder.
The Tennessee freshman just had to experience it firsthand.
"Coming from high school, you can make mistakes and get away with it," secondary coach Terry Joseph said. "At this level, it's going to be points on the board.
"You can say it in practice, you can say it in scrimmages, but until it goes up in front of about 95,000 and on national TV, it won't hit home for him."
In the second quarter of Saturday's 42-16 victory over Montana, Coleman was exposed and burned on an 80-yard touchdown catch by Jabin Sambrano. It was the lone big play surrendered by a UT secondary that prided itself on bending, but not breaking, all throughout the preseason.
On Monday, coach Derek Dooley put it simply: Coleman was "initiated."
It was how Coleman responded to that initiation, both in the game and at practice during the week, that's made Joseph and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox confident that he's not dwelling on it.
"You have a short-term memory playing defensive back, especially in the SEC," Joseph said. "He's been fine in practice, he was fine in the game.
"I think what it taught him, it got his attention that hey, one minor slip-up in the details and you can give up a big play."
Junior safety Prentiss Waggner noticed the same thing. The secondary's most experienced veteran, Waggner said he would ask Coleman a question or two after every defensive series to see if his head was spinning.
In Sunday's film session, Waggner said Coleman was asked to field more questions than usual.
"I don't really like being in a player's head too much, because I think that gets them out of their comfort level," Waggner said. "He told me he was feeling good after that big play Montana made, so that's progress."
Progress is what UT's coaches have seen from Coleman ever since he enrolled in January. He made multiple big plays in the Orange and White game and he fended off a handful of veterans to earn his starting job before the season opener.
Coleman will see the field plenty against Cincinnati on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 3:30 p.m.) and, in all likelihood, will make a few more mistakes. That's OK, Wilcox said, just so long as he's as quick to forget about them as he has been this past week.
"At that position, everybody sees it. That's just part of playing there," Wilcox said. "We're not down on him at all.
"Justin's demeanor and his make-up is such that we expect him to continue to grow and learn from those (mistakes)."
Health Update: One day after he was out because "his tummy hurt," defensive tackle Malik Jackson was back at practice Wednesday and did not appear to be limited by the stomach virus that sidelined him Tuesday and subsequently frustrated Dooley.
Defensive tackle Maurice Couch, who is nursing a sprained MCL in his knee, was "integrated a little bit better" but is still considered "day to day," Dooley said.
Pleasantly Surprised: Asked if he was particularly pleased with one of the nine players he used on the defensive line Saturday, coach Lance Thompson singled out Couch.
Couch didn't show up much on the stat sheet, finishing with just an assist before he sat out the fourth quarter with his knee injury, but his presence was felt on run plays.
"Mo did some really good things, especially for a first time out on this kind of stage, and I was really pleased with Mo," Thompson said. "He's a force in the run game. A lot of times, you don't see what a guy in there does. But if he's taking up two blockers and we've got a free 'backer or a free second-level player, that's a good job."
Pick-Six Minded: The Vols (1-0) ran back four interceptions for touchdowns last season and, after Art Evans took one back 37 yards for a score Saturday, are on pace for 12 in 2011.
Joseph said it's something he focuses on with the secondary during practice.
"We kind of feel if we can score on defense, our chance of winning goes up tremendously," Joseph said. "We do it in practice and we reward them and we make a big deal out of it."
Joseph said there are a few basic rules players must follow whenever one of their teammates intercepts a pass.
"We look for the quarterback because we want to get him on the ground first," Joseph said. "We want to get to the near sideline and then from there it's all about athletic ability."