KNOXVILLE -- Izauea Lanier's last stint as a starting cornerback was anything but technical.
The Tennessee sophomore was the best player on his Gordo (Ala.) High School team, and his defensive tasks then were simple.
"They just put me on the best receiver," Lanier said after the Volunteers' practice Monday morning. "It wasn't really a natural position. Basically I was going off my ability when I was playing before. I really didn't have the technique down pat, so me getting the technique is making me more comfortable with everything that I'm doing."
Lanier has become so comfortable with the position and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's playbook that the junior college transfer has nabbed a starting corner spot just four games into his career with the Vols, who will host Buffalo at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Lanier will become the third player to start opposite Marsalis Teague in the Vols' defensive backfield. Justin Coleman started the season's first two games, but the freshman was victimized on some big plays and lost his starting spot to fifth-year senior Art Evans, who started in UT's loss at Florida.
Coach Derek Dooley called the secondary a "mess" after UT beat Cincinnati two weeks ago, and the Vols are still searching for the right combination.
"He's playing better," Dooley said of Lanier. "It's everything: He's got good size and speed at the position; he's a tough guys, makes tackles in space. I think as time is going, he's getting a little more confident with the defense, he's playing a little faster and he played pretty good against Florida. We hope he can progress."
Lanier, who signed with Auburn out of high school in 2009 but failed to qualify academically, has made much progress since he stepped on campus in June. After making 66 tackles and four interceptions as a freshman safety at East Mississippi Community College, Lanier redshirted last year and committed to Auburn again before ultimately signing with the Vols.
He had to shake off the rust from not playing last season, and he admits he was in poor shape when he arrived at UT. With those obstacles and having to learn a new system and a new position, Lanier's Vols career got off to a slower start than he wanted.
But he had one asset -- size -- that UT's coaching staff liked and helped him while he was learning on the fly, improving his conditioning to play every down and getting in proper football shape.
"There's not too many 195-pound corners that play on Saturday or Sunday," defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said last week. "I've said all along with Izauea, as he continues to play, [he] is going to get better and better."
Added Lanier: "To be honest, me being physical helped a whole lot because that's actually what they were talking to me about before I got here."
The fierce competition in the secondary during preseason training camp forced Lanier to learn quickly, and he credited the daily battles with UT's talented receiving duo of Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers for helping him shake the rust.
"He's a real good player," Teague said. "He's got good ball skills and good cover skills. That size is a big advantage for him."
Lanier said there were a couple of plays against the Gators that he realized he could play in the Southeastern Conference, but now that he's taken a starting spot he's not planning on doing anything differently.
"I just come out here like every day, like I treat every day as it's the same," he said. "I'm not too overwhelmed about it because I still have a job to do. I'm just going to stick to what I've been doing."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...