published Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Tennessee Vols' Cam Sutton standing ground when challenged

Tennessee defensive back Cameron Sutton, right, breaks up a pass intended for Florida wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla.
Tennessee defensive back Cameron Sutton, right, breaks up a pass intended for Florida wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Cam Sutton hears the same thing on a daily basis.

The true freshman cornerback constantly is reminded by Tennessee secondary coach Willie Martinez that he's going to be targeted and picked on by opposing offenses, so he knows he can expect to see some passes thrown to this side of the field on Saturdays.

His response?

"He's always the one back there saying bring it on," safety Brian Randolph said Tuesday. "He loves to compete. When it's game time, you see a different look in his eye."

"He doesn't really say that," Martinez added Wednesday evening after Tennessee's practice, "but he doesn't really say much. I say that to everybody in there, but [especially with] him being a young player.

"There's only one way to stop that: Make plays and keep making plays."

That's exactly what Sutton's done the past two games, and he'll need to keep it going with sixth-ranked Georgia and its high-powered passing attack led by quarterback Aaron Murray.

Last week, South Alabama twice threw fade routes into the end zone to receiver matched up one-on-one against the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Sutton. Both times the freshman broke up the passes, including one against Alabama transfer Danny Woodson. He broke up a pass along the sideline and knifed in for a tackle for loss on a screen play earlier in the game.

Two games ago, Florida took a shot deep down the field against Sutton, and he played the pass well and broke it up. He became the first true freshman to return an interception for a touchdown since Eric Berry in 2007 when he took a pick back against Western Kentucky. He's been entrenched as a starter since the first week or so of preseason practice.

"I think he's done a great job for a true freshman," Vols defensive coordinator John Jancek said. "Shoot, in the Florida game, they tried to go up top on him and he broke it up, was in great position, wedged and squeezed the guy. Last week in the red zone, he had a couple of different pass breakups.

"I personally have never talked to him about, 'Hey, they're going to try and pick on you.' That's the nature of his position. They're going to go at somebody."

The way Sutton has stood his ground when challenged and made plays the past two weeks surely has helped his confidence.

"I think it's pretty good. I think it's high," Martinez said. "He had three PBUs this last ball game. Two of them were in the end zone that would have been touchdowns if he didn't make the play.

"I think it's pretty good, and that's the life of a corner. When you've got the mojo going, the key is to keep it, because they're going to keep on coming after you."

Though Jancek and Martinez were at separate programs last season, both went after Sutton during his senior year at Jonesboro High School, located south of Atlanta. Jancek said Sutton, rated as a three-star prospect, was scheduled to visit Cincinnati in August of last year the morning he verbally committed to Tennessee.

Martinez recruited Sutton at Auburn, and the Tigers got an official visit from the three-sport star in January before he ultimately decided to stick with Tennessee.

"I've always loved him and I've always wanted him when I was at Auburn," Martinez said. "The things that turned me on the most about him was he played three sports and was a starter in all of them. He's a competitive kid.

"Every time you talked to somebody about him, they said nothing but praised him and talked about how well of a team guy he was, how smart he was, how athletic he was."

With its lack of depth at corner, Tennessee needed Sutton to be ready to contribute immediately. He played 78 of the 79 snaps South Alabama took last week, and it's probably scary for Tennessee's' coaches to think of where they would be without him.

The Vols have played 14 true freshmen in the season's first five games, and Sutton, along with receiver Marquez North, became the seventh and eighth true freshmen to start a season opener since 2007.

And so far, Sutton's had the biggest impact.

"I can tell he's getting a lot of experience," Randolph said. "He's starting to be able to know what the offense is trying to do to him. He's becoming one of the vets back there, and we can trust him a lot."

"I think he's very confident in his ability," added Jancek. "He doesn't say a whole lot. He doesn't get frazzled. He's very focused, he's diligent and I'm very pleased with him."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

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