Dee Virgin puts in his time on the practice field, in the weight room and in team and position meetings. The redshirt freshman cornerback, like most of his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga teammates, also puts in time on his own studying video.
"It's just part of the job," Virgin said following Wednesday's practice at Scrappy Moore Field. "You've got to come out here and want to get better, and then you've got to want to study film and want to learn as much as you can."
Virgin, a 5-foot-10, 180-pounder from Donalsonville, Ga., has started three games this season and is usually on the field whenever the Mocs (3-2, 1-1 Southern Conference) are in their nickel defense -- which is most of the time this season.
In Virgin's first collegiate game, the Mocs' opening 31-21 loss to UT-Martin, he intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble. But that wasn't his best game, he said. He was beat on some plays and said his footwork was bad.
Virgin said his best game was last week's 41-21 win against Western Carolina. He had a career-high seven tackles, but what made it a good game was his improved footwork -- most of the time.
"I had a couple of tackles and I should have had a pick, but my footwork cost me," he said, shaking his head. "I've just got to keep working and keep getting better."
The Mocs, who host Furman (2-3, 1-1) on Saturday at Finley Stadium, need Virgin to keep improving. A lack of depth is becoming a big problem for the UTC defense, especially now that another redshirt freshman cornerback, Will Johnson, who suffered a torn labrum in the preseason and played in three games, will have season-ending surgery.
"We're pretty short in depth, but we've got to hang on," Virgin said. "I've got to maintain, keep doing what I'm doing in practice and stay on task."
Johnson was trying to avoid the surgery and play through the shoulder injury. He aggravated it against Georgia Southern and sat out last week's game, and the decision was made to shut him down and go ahead and fix his shoulder.
Mocs coach Russ Huesman said UTC can plug in Sema'je Kendall to multiple spots in the secondary or move Chaz Moore around from nickelback to the outside spot, but that won't be necessary if Virgin stays healthy and continues to improve.
"Dee's been playing good," Huesman said. "If he wasn't then we'd make a move, but Dee's playing good."
Footwork and film study were clearly on Virgin's mind after Wednesday's practice because he mentioned both numerous times. He also talked about how he's reading plays much better than he was a month ago.
"I've gotten better in my footwork, which was horrible. I had to work on that like major, for real," said Virgin, who has 12 tackles, three pass breakups and four passes defended through five games. "And my vision -- I'm seeing things so much better and that's getting better every day."
Mocs defensive end Keionta Davis (knee bruise) will not play Saturday. The Mocs also will be without backup right tackle Hunter Dockery (knee) for a couple of weeks. UTC will get back backup safety C.J. Murrell (ankle), who has been out since the opener, and starting left tackle Corey Levin (flu) has been out all week but will play, Huesman said. ... UTC will hold a homecoming pep rally at Miller Plaza today at noon, and the public is invited.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.