KNOXVILLE — Gerald Jones broke open in the middle of the field during Tennessee’s Saturday scrimmage in Neyland Stadium, but the throw left him vulnerable to a vicious hit from cornerback Marsalis Teague.
Teague, a former wide receiver who backed up Jones last season, resisted the urge to take the knockout shot on his former mentor.
“He didn’t knock the (heck) out of me, but he could have,” Jones said. “I think he understands that at the end of the day we’re on the same team, and I was a defenseless receiver and it was just a scrimmage.
“He’s no Eric Gordon.”
Gordon would have taken the shot. He and Jones are friends off the field — Gordon drops off Jones and senior wide receiver Denarius Moore at their house most days after practice — but Gordon said no offensive players are his “homeboys” on the field. Not even in practice.
“I’ve got to get after those guys and get them ready for Saturdays,” the redshirt freshman said with a laugh. “And I feel like they’re not going to face a better corner than me, or a more physical corner than me.
“Honestly, I’m trying to take their heads off every play. On the field, you’ve got to be pretty mean. You’ve got to be aggressive. I love it. That’s my style.”
Few if any people near the UT football complex disagreed with that.
“(Florida’s) Joe Haden was probably the most physical corner I’d faced before I faced Eric,” Jones said. “Eric is his own kind of guy. He plays every day like he’s (ticked) off at the world.
“Nobody I’ve ever played against is like Eric Gordon. He’s the most physical guy I’ve ever faced.”
UT quarterback Matt Simms said he’s already become cautious of throwing Gordon’s way too much on the practice field.
“Eric Gordon is a very good player,” Simms said. “He’s a very intense and physical corner. It’s tough to go to him on some plays, because you know he’s just going to grab that receiver and kind of manhandle him and boss him around.
“He’s really tough to throw on, and you’ve kind of got to pick and choose your moments when to throw it his way.”
Simms suspected Gordon could be special while watching the 5-foot-9, 186-pound defensive back work out this summer.
“I watched him bench-press 450 pounds and squat 400 pounds,” Simms said. “When he’s in there lifting with the O-linemen and D-linemen, you know he’s got some intangibles.”
Gordon, a four-star recruit from Nashville who received scholarship offers from most of the nation’s prominent programs, played safety his final two years in high school and said he keeps a safety’s mentality as a college cornerback.
But how physical is too physical? That’s the question Vols head coach Derek Dooley frequently asks himself regarding Gordon.
“He still scares you to death,” Dooley admitted Monday night. “He’s one of these guys that he’s feisty, he’s aggressive, he gets out of position ... but then he recovers, and he makes a lot of plays. In the spring, he wasn’t recovering as well and he was getting beat bad. But what he’s learned to do is not panic when he gets out of position, and he’s got time to close in and play on the ball, and he’s really made progress on that.
“I’ve been proud of him. He’s gotten better every week.”
Jones agreed, saying Gordon was much easier to beat in the spring.
“Now he’s being smart with it and still being physical,” Jones said. “Now he’s picking and choosing ... and that’s made him a much better player.”
Gordon said he spent all spring “trying to prove” himself to the Vols’ veterans, and he allowed that to “get the best of me sometimes.” Wisecracking offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who prods players on both sides of the ball every day, often teased Gordon about playing too close to receivers he couldn’t run with down the field.
“I hate for guys to make a play on me, and I don’t want to be the guy that when 10 other guys are in position, I’m not in position,” Gordon said.
He’s far from a finished product, but daily work with secondary coach Terry Joseph has helped. Once coaches help Gordon find the fine line between aggression and recklessness, they think they’ll have a special player.
“I know I have the ability to do it, but I just have to keep working,” Gordon said. “If I get 2 percent better every day in practice, I’ll get 10 percent better every week ... and become the player I want to be.”
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