JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Tennessee senior defensive back Marsalis Teague has seen a lot in four years at Tennessee. There have been two head coaches, three position coaches and time spent on both sides of the ball.
After jumping from wide receiver to cornerback and being in and out of the starting lineup for three years, the senior from Paris, Tenn., has one more shot to make an impact for the Vols in 2012. He is squarely in the middle of the battle to be the Vols’ second cornerback behind senior Prentiss Waggner.
He made the most of his opportunity in the Vols’ first scrimmage on Saturday. Teague led the team with four pass deflections and added seven tackles. But that wasn’t enough to satisfy him.
“I can always do better,” Teague said. “I just have to go in there, watch the film, clean it up and go out and do it even better the next time.”
That’s the approach he will need to take to hold off challengers such as sophomore Justin Coleman, junior Eric Gordon and freshmen Deion Bonner and Daniel Gray. Those four, in addition to Teague, make up the list of likely candidates to start at the No. 2 cornerback spot, a job that was left wide open when junior Izauea Lanier was ruled ineligible for the season.
Lanier was able to do what Teague is hoping to do in 2012 — lock down a starting job at cornerback. Teague admitted he had his fair share of troubles last season. He was benched after starting the first six games, only to return to start the final two after injuries plagued the unit. This fall, he has seen some time with the first unit but said the rotation is still a work in progress.
“We rotate our depth chart in, so yeah we're kind of going in and out,” Teague said when asked if he’s working with the starters. “Nothing's really set in stone; that's why we go through camp. We're all encouraging each other and helping each other out, but at the end of the day, we're still competing for that spot.”
The winner of the spot will have a large advantage on a week-to-week basis. Facing potential All-SEC wide receivers Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter on a daily basis keeps the unit sharp.
“It's fun, it's a challenge,” he said. “They're two of the best receivers in the country arguably, and for us it's a good battle.”
The receivers might have gotten the slight upper hand in the first scrimmage. Rogers looked to be in 2011 form, grabbing six receptions for 105 yards. Hunter had seven receptions for 47 yards.
The quarterbacks combined for three touchdown passes to just one interception. There were 327 yards through the air. But coach Derek Dooley said those stats didn’t tell the whole story for Teague and the secondary.
"I think the defense did a pretty good job of preventing the big plays on the pass game,” Dooley said. “Even though we threw the ball decently, we didn't generate yards per attempt that we are trying to get, so there is some good and bad there.”
That’s been a summary of Teague’s career on the whole — some good and some bad. He helped save the Vols from being upset by UAB in 2010 with a diving pass deflection. He has also been beaten deep, been benched and has yet to have an interception in 22 career games on defense.
Teague has one more shot to find that consistency he’s looking for, and to spend an entire season as a reliable starter. The former four-star recruit who shunned Florida and other top programs to play for the Vols doesn’t seem too concerned with his situation. He’s just ready for his home-state school to win.
“As long as the defense is getting better overall, that’s what I’m worried about,” he said. “I don’t want to be singled out for what I do.”