Daniel Hood on the beginning of the Vols' fall camp
Tennessee cornerback Justin Coleman used to have flashbacks, the equivalent of waking up from a nightmare in a cold sweat.
The memory was the same: Getting beat on a long pass play and having all the eyes in the stadium squarely on him.
"Sometimes it really got to me," Coleman.
Now Coleman is trying to acquire what most coaches say is a cornerback's most valuable attribute — an extremely short memory.
The sophomore from Brunswick, Ga., is one of dozens of Vols embroiled in position battles that are about to get more intense.
Tennessee practiced in full pads for the first time Sunday. Today, freshman and juco newcomers will be added to the veteran group for the first time. By the end of the week, the Vols will be off to Milligan College.
The introductory weekend of the Vols camp is over, and the real competition is about to begin.
"All the people who are worried about what happened yesterday are never going to get anything accomplished today," said coach Derek Dooley. "Teach your brain to focus on what's next. That's what training camp's about."
Dooley wasn't talking specifically about Coleman, but he might as well have been. Coleman had a sometimes bumpy freshman season — including an 80-yard touchdown pass that he surrendered in the first game of his college career — and he's taken the criticism to heart this time around.
"I just hear I've got to do better, I've got to get better, I've got to make bigger plays," Coleman said.
And if he gets beat?
"If somebody beats me, I've just got to finish the play and go on to the next play."
Dooley said Coleman may have faced unfair criticism last year. For one, the errors of a cornerback are more visible — and often more costly — than any other position on the field. But Dooley also said that Coleman was more vulnerable because he was a freshman and thus more likely to be picked on by opponents.
"He's a true freshman and he made a couple of bad plays," Dooley said. "The younger you are and the more you are out there, the more likely you are going to get tested."
Senior Prentiss Waggner will likely take one of the starting cornerback jobs, but the competition for the second spot is up for grabs after junior Izauea Lanier was declared academically ineligible for this season. Veterans Marsalis Teague and Eric Gordon are also in the mix for the job.
Other battles to watch this week:
At safety, the Vols have sophomore Brian Randolph and then some questions. Veteran reserve Rod Wilks, junior Byron Moore and 24-year-old former minor league baseball player Brent Brewer will get the first crack at the job.
Brewer's 2011 season ended with a torn ACL. After slimming down, he looks more like a defensive back than a linebacker.
"He's leaner so he is moving better," Dooley said. "He was a little bit lethargic at times because he was big. He's playing faster. Hopefully, he'll be able to pick it all up and make up for what he missed in the spring."
The 3-4 defensive orientation of new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri has put a premium on versatility for defensive linemen.
Senior Maurice Couch, junior Daniel Hood and sophomore Greg Clark are all vying for the interior nose tackle spot.
Couch was plagued by asthma and other problems a year ago, but he finished the season strong.
"He's worked hard at his conditioning. He's showing a lot of mental toughness," Dooley said. "When he goes all out, he's a pretty good little player."
Junior Michael Palardy, a kicker and occasional punter, has battled injuries and inconsistency and will have to fend off challenges from sophomore punter Matt Darr, sophomore kicker Derek Brodus and newly arrived freshman George Bullock.
Palardy said he feels physically healthy and mentally strong going into camp. Dooley said that mental conditioning is essential for the Vols' kicker.
"My most important thing is for him to be mentally and physically confident on game day," said Dooley. "That's what matters. We're making sure that feeling doesn't change when we get out there on the big stage. That's the biggest thing that he has to keep conditioning his mind for."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat