KNOXVILLE - Eric Gordon's year of growing pains is out of the way, but that doesn't mean this spring practice has been a breeze for the Tennessee cornerback.
"It was a learning process for me, my first year out there," the rising third-year sophomore from Nashville said after practice Tuesday, "but this year I feel like I'm used to it, I know the scheme of things and I can just get going with it. My spring's personally not going the way I expected it. I had a bad first half, but the second half I plan on coming out and making more plays and being in position to make plays."
The 5-foot-9, 189-pound Gordon started six games in 2010, though he suffered a late-season concussion and an internal-organ issue during bowl practice. He fumbled away a kickoff and a punt in the Volunteers' blowout loss at Georgia before bouncing back for interceptions in back-to-back games, one of which he returned for a score against Ole Miss.
Gordon attributed his troubles this spring on poor positioning.
"My results aren't what I wanted them to be because I'm not in position," he said. "That just comes from practice and learning my schemes [and] knowing where I need to be at the right time so I can make plays."
With possibly up to eight new defensive backs as part of the incoming signing class, the practice time this spring is valuable to players like Gordon who are trying to solidify their spot in the Vols' secondary rotation.
"We're doing a lot of things differently in the secondary - matching patterns, playing our fire zones a little different," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "Every rep is important back there for those guys, they're going to need it, too, because y'all know, here comes the cavalry in June. There's going to be a lot of good competition."
Too much reading
The stats said backup tailback Rajion Neal (14 carries, 152 yards and three touchdowns) significantly outperformed starter Tauren Poole (nine carries, 21 yards) in Saturday's scrimmage.
The improving Neal was responsible for some of it, though UT's second-team defense certainly helped him get his impressive numbers.
"It was a not defense you'd be proud of. If you watched it, J.T. would have had about 94 (yards) against them. J.T., as you know, is my 12-year-old son," Dooley quipped. "I shouldn't take away some credit - Rajion's getting better. I just told him that he's doing a lot of things a lot better and that's encouraging, but he still does some things that are absolutely horrendous that we've got to get out of his game. But he's showing he's making a lot of progress."
Neal is attempting to stake his claim to be a consistent complement in the backfield with Poole, from whom the Vols are still looking for more despite his 1,000-yard season a year ago.
"Tauren, really to me, has improved as much as anybody in the first six practices," Dooley said. "Now he didn't get the results in the scrimmage and a lot of it wasn't his fault, but I think Tauren's running better.
"He's working harder, he's less affected with things aren't going his way, so I'm pleased with his progress. I think he's being a lot more decisive as a runner. He's not there yet, but he's on his way. He's doing things this spring that he didn't do all last year [and] that's good."
Both fullback Channing Fugate (concussion) and defensive back Prentiss Waggner (left hand) wore red non-contact jerseys at Tuesday's practice, though Waggner had his hand wrapped into a large club.
"I wouldn't call it significant because he's out there," Dooley said. "I told him he didn't hit anybody anyway, so really he's still live. Most of his work that he needs is pattern-match, covering, and he can still do all that."
Waggner said he suffered the injury attempting to tackle receiver Da'Rick Rogers on a reverse during Saturday's scrimmage. He had an X-ray done on Monday and has another one scheduled for Friday.
"I just like to be out there with the guys, man," he said. "Whatever I can do - position drills, footwork - I just want to be out there improving my game."
"I told him to tell y'all his hand got cut off," Dooley quipped. "We didn't really know until today, and we still don't know because it's one of those deals where you have to watch it and then go re-X-ray and see if it's healed or do we have to do a little surgery."
Correspondent Matt Dixon contributed to this story.