Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Tennessee wide receiver Marsalis Teague makes a catch in the end zone during the first half of their game against Georgia at Neyland Stadiun in Knoxville. Tennessee won 45-19.
KNOXVILLE — When Marsalis Teague started and caught two touchdowns in his collegiate debut for Tennessee last season, some left Neyland Stadium wondering if the 5-foot-10 freshman was the next coming of Donte’ Stallworth or Cedrick Wilson.
That answer now seems clear.
No, Teague won’t be the next standout in the slot at “Wide Receiver U,” but he could be the next great Volunteers cornerback.
The Henry County native who initially committed to Florida as a defensive back quickly has found a home on that side of the ball at UT.
“You know what they say? All the best athletes play defense,” Vols sophomore safety Janzen Jackson said with a smile. “He’s a natural, man. He’s already making big plays and helping us out a lot.”
Teague is listed at receiver in the media guide because he moved to corner mere days before the start of preseason camp. He admitted being stunned when new coach Derek Dooley approached him about the move — the high school quarterback spent all offseason working on his route-running — but the humble young man who grew up singing along to R&B records in his parents’ living room accepted the move without blinking.
“Receiver was a whole new thing for me last year, but I liked it,” Teague said. “But I like defense, too ... and that might be the best move for my future anyway. The bottom line is I’m a team guy, and I’ll play wherever my coach and my team need me.
“The team needed me on defense, so I just rolled with it. It’s still football.”
And he still knows how to play offense, which hasn’t hurt his transition.
“It’s tough to throw to Teague’s side, because he understands our concepts,” junior quarterback Matt Simms said. “He sees stuff happening and he knows it, and he’s able to just fly to the football and make plays.
“He definitely has a little bit of an advantage since he used to be a receiver.”
Senior wide receiver Gerald Jones agreed.
“He’s not timid at all,” said Jones, who helped mentor Teague last season. “He’s helped our secondary a lot. He looks like a guy who can get the job done.”
Cornerbacks usually cover a receiver, whether man-to-man or in a zone. Occasionally they blitz. It’s not terribly complicated in most schemes.
The physical challenges, though, rival any position on the field. Starting in a backpedal and covering receivers who seemingly get taller and thicker every season puts a premium on athleticism, technique and physical and psychological toughness.
And Teague, after just a few weeks of practice and a few hours of meetings, could start at that position for UT this season. At the very least, he’ll play a lot if he stays healthy.
“Marsalis Teague has been just a tremendous addition, and he’s going to be a real key player for us,” Dooley said. “He’s just done well. He’s a good athlete, and he’s a perfect corner prospect, and I think he’ll get better in time.”
He has only a few more days to get ready for this season, but when he accepted the move he didn’t want to wait to make it work.
“Not to try to sound cocky or anything, but you’ve got to have faith in yourself,” Teague said. “I didn’t come over here to join the defense in the back of my mind thinking, ‘I’m fixing to go over here and try to add depth to them.’ I thought, ‘I’m fixing to go over there and play.’ I feel like I’m a playmaker and a good enough natural athlete to where I can make that adjustment.
“So far, my transition has gone pretty smoothly.”
The former offensive player scoffs at the notion that he’ll be simply a “cover” corner.
“I ain’t scared to hit nobody,” he said. “I’ll put that out there right now. I ain’t scared to hit nobody. But at the same time, I like covering and I like going for that ball. I’d like to be known as a guy who does both [hit and cover].
“I know I just moved over here, but I know what I can do. I know I can do this.”
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