ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. — A healthy Nyshier Oliver is making for healthy cornerback competition in Tennessee's secondary.
Oliver's first three years as a Vol were decimated by injuries. After redshirting in 2009, the guy known as "Naz" missed 2010 due to a torn ACL and missed 2011 due to a fractured wrist.
He was feeling good in Saturday's scrimmage at Johnson City's Science Hill High School, however, and feeling even better after posting one of the day's best performances. His 4 stops in run support included a tackle for loss. He also made plays against the pass, recording a breakup and a 32-yard interception return.
"That was my first scrimmage out there at corner in awhile, and I felt like I was really productive," he said following Monday's morning workout at Milligan College. "I made a couple of plays."
The interception came on a throw from Nathan Peterman that was intended for fellow freshman Drae Bowles.
"It was a good play, I guess," Oliver said. "I didn't expect it to come my way. It was a straight nine (go) route."
Oliver won the battle for the football, however, then returned it 32 yards before being tackled.
That was the kind of talent Tennessee coaches saw when they signed Oliver out of Jersey City, N.J., four years ago. It was the kind of play they envisioned when they listed him first-team at cornerback in April of 2010.
"Then I had a freak accident in the spring game," he recalled. "I didn't think it was a torn ACL at first. Then they gave me the news, and it crushed me."
In addition to his first-team job, the knee injury cost him the entire 2010 season. Switched from cornerback to wide receiver shortly after he recovered, he fractured his wrist last August and missed all of 2011.
Some victims of such adversity would curse their fate. Not Oliver.
"I'm healthy now," he said philosophically, "and I just want to move forward."
Between position changes and injury rehabilitations, Oliver has never played a snap in a college game. That may be about to change, however. He's in the thick of the battle for the cornerback spot opposite all-star candidate Prentiss Waggner.
"I feel like I've definitely got a shot," he said. "I've just got to keep coming out here and grinding because I'm competing against some other good guys — Deion Bonner, Vincent Dallas, Justin Coleman and Marsalis Teague. I'm just going to patiently wait for my opportunity."
Oliver's patience is unquestioned. So is his team-first attitude. Although he never suited up for a game at wide receiver, he has no regrets about the time he spent there before undergoing wrist surgery last Sept. 1.
"I don't feel like it slowed my development at corner," he said. "I think it kind of helped me to understand the route tree at receiver and understand the combinations of routes I might get playing corner. I think that really helped me."
After a redshirt year and two seasons wiped out by injury, Oliver hasn't played since he was a high school senior in the fall of 2008. Despite the long layoff, he believes he's a more accomplished player this August than he was last August.
"I feel like I'm a better player than I was a year ago because I'm physically maturing and mentally maturing," he said. "I understand the game better. I'm still a young man but I'm not a teenager anymore. I came in with the '09 class, so I'm seasoned now."
He's seasoned and he's toughened. Losing back-to-back seasons to injury would break some players. It only served to make Oliver more determined.
"It definitely made me a stronger, tougher player," he said. "Dealing with all of that adversity far from home — away from my family and going through it by myself — I really had to lean on my teammates and lean on my faith."
Hear more from Oliver following a training camp workout in the video below from InsideTennessee: