Coleman's move a key in '14

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Is he a cornerback? A nickelback? A safety?

What Justin Coleman winds up playing on the back end or in the box of the Tennessee defense could be quite telling in 2014.

If the rising senior is able to rotate inside to nickelback versus Spread offenses or roll to safety against Pro-Style sets, that both means the Volunteers found a cornerback opposite Cameron Sutton that's at least serviceable and that Coleman can finally play a position that better suits his skill set.

If Tennessee was 4-5 years into the Butch Jones era, given how he and the staff are recruiting presently, it makes sense to assume SEC level talent would exist throughout the secondary. Hypothetically, if that type of two-deep existed in 2014, where would defensive coordinator John Jancek line up Coleman?

"Really, Justin is pretty versatile," Jancek told InsideTennessee. "He can play corner and then also we feel he could be a good nickel, which we've tried to move him in there (in early 2013). Some health never materialized with certain players so we were never able to make that move. That's something we're going to look at when we get some other players in here."

"Other players" includes freshmen such as RaShaan Gaulden, Emmanuel Moseley and D'Andre Payne could directly impact where Coleman plays if each or any is able to step up.

The time Coleman's spent outside the numbers wasn't wasteful. Jones suggest those reps lend themselves to learning the nickel spot.

"There's a lot of similarities because you know a lot of times some teams' receivers are on the inside," Jones told IT. "So, they have to be able to play man coverage. Probably the level of physicality is a little bit more because they're a lot of times setting the edge.

"There's a lot of carryover but it's also different because you can be covering a tight end, you could be covering a wideout."

At a sculpted 5 feet 10, 190 pounds, Coleman possesses plenty of stature to bring down ball carriers, tight ends and large quarterbacks in space. After 36 games played in three seasons on The Hill, he should be well-equipped from the neck-up as well to handle the workload.

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Blanketing wide receivers hasn't been Coleman's strong suit to date. The former Scout three-star has just one interception in spite of having 25 starts at cornerback. However, he doesn't have a quarterback sack to date. Providing a pass rush as a blitzing nickelback will require some adjusting.

The head man suggests transitioning to a new position will take time.

"The big thing is a learning curve," Jones said. "As much carryover as there is, it's still a different position. There's a different skill set involved but also from an assignment standpoint."

While Jancek and Jones will have ample say in how Coleman is used with Team 118, the task with teaching him whichever position it may be falls on defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, who wants a high football I.Q. and the ability to blanket the slot out of his nickelback.

"It is very similar to the safety position," Martinez said, "because you are tied into everything, calls and checks and you are playing a position where you are lined up on the slot so you are seeing him run as much as you are seeing paths, you have to be able to play them all and make quick decisions. Usually the slot receiver is the best receiver on the team, on the offense, so you are matched up with a really good player."

One position or the other, Coleman clearly has ability to help Tennessee this fall. The only question that needs answering is which new role that will be.


Discuss Coleman's positional future with InsideTennessee analysts and subscribers by CLICKING HERE.


Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the Scout team July 2011.
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