Tennessee sophomore Vincent Dallas is thrilled about his move from wide receiver to defensive back, and with good reason. History is on his side.
Historically, Vols who make this switch don't just contribute. They excel.
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After moving from receiver to defensive back in 1984, Terry McDaniel started at cornerback for two years, then became a first-round NFL Draft pick and a nine-year pro.
After moving from wide receiver to defensive back in 1989, Carl Pickens earned recognition as Defensive MVP of the 1990 Cotton Bowl before returning to wideout the following season.
After moving from wide receiver to defensive back in 1993 Ronald Davis started for two years at cornerback and became a second-round pick in the 1995 NFL Draft.
After moving from wide receiver to defensive back in 2000 preseason drills Rashad Baker started four years at free safety, then went on to play six years in the NFL.
After moving from wide receiver to defensive back in 2004 Jonathan Wade started at cornerback for two years and went on to become a third-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft who is still active in the pros.
After moving from wide receiver to defensive back in 2007 Brent Vinson started at cornerback that year before off-field problems short-circuited his career.
After moving from wide receiver to defensive back in 2010 Marsalis Teague started 16 games at cornerback the past two years and projects to start as a senior in 2012.
Given all of the above, Dallas' excitement about being the latest Vol to make the switch seems well founded. Although the 5-foot-11, 187-pounder caught three passes for 37 yards as a true freshman in 2011, he's convinced that he'll have greater impact on defense.
"I think about that all the time," he said, literally beaming. "I know I've got a bright future, and everything's going to be all right."
Dallas finished the 2011 season with a flourish, catching a nine-yard pass in Game 10 at Arkansas and a 22-yarder in Game 11 versus Vanderbilt before missing the Kentucky game with a broken hand. After catching just one pass in three spring scrimmages (a 13-yarder in the Orange & White Game), however, he asked head coach Derek Dooley about changing sides of the ball.
"I brought it up to him," Dallas recalled. "Me and Coach Dooley had a meeting and talked about a lot of stuff, then made the transaction."
Derrick Ansley, Tennessee's first-year cornerbacks coach, says Dallas already was familiar with secondary play when he showed up for the Vols' first preseason practice.
"It wasn't new to him," Ansley recalled. "Any time you're a good player in high school you're going to play both ways, so he did. It wasn't anything that was foreign to him. The terminology and techniques were new to him, so those parts were a little bit of a growing pain. But, as far as being physical and wanting to do it, he was all in."
Dallas confirmed Ansley's analysis, noting that he was a two-way standout at Cedar Grove High in Ellenwood, Ga.
|Dolphins cornerback Jonathan Wade has seen his football career flourish since switching to defensive back while in Knoxville.|
|(Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)|
"I started on both sides of the ball," he recalled. "My (scholarship) offers coming out of high school was half and half for DB and wide receiver."
Dallas says he learned one thing playing cornerback in high school that has served him well now that he's playing the position at Tennessee.
"Basically, just being physical," he said. "Defensive back is about being physical, moving your feet and using technique."
Still, playing cornerback for a major-college program is a stiffer challenge than playing cornerback for a high-school team.
"It's a lot different," Dallas conceded. "I'm on a bigger level. I'm just trying to compete and get better. There's always room for improvement."
Helping him compete and get better is his position coach, fresh from a two-year stint as a defensive aide at Alabama.
"Coach Ansley's a great guy," Dallas said. "He's doing everything he can to push me, teach me great technique and keep me going. Everything's working out good."
Bubbling with enthusiasm, Dallas says the switch to corner "hasn't really been a tough adjustment," adding: "I just compete every day as hard as I can, then go to the film room and clean it up."
He says the camaraderie of Tennessee's defensive backs is helping him considerably, noting: "All of my boys on defense help me to execute and get better."
Covering wideouts Justin Hunter, Da' Rick Rogers, Cordarrelle Patterson in practice each day is helping him get better, too. Dallas surely won't face a more gifted trio all season.
"It's a great feeling," he said. "We've got some great receivers, so I take it as work to get me better."
Dallas also believes he's benefiting from the aggressive style of play Ansley is demanding of Vol cornerbacks.
"Oh, man, it's great," Dallas said. "We're going to be a great secondary, and he's going to make sure of that. He's teaching us some good stuff."
Nyshier Oliver is another Vol who has switched positions. The redshirt junior started his career in orange at cornerback before moving to receiver last fall. He's back at DB now. Get his thoughts on the transitions in the video interview below: