Justin Coleman and Cam Sutton. The two Tennessee defensive backs became the cornerstone of the Volunteer secondary in 2013.

But heading into the 2014 season, it seems as if UT's outside coverage duo will be split up.

Sutton, who was named to the All-SEC freshman team last year, will remain on the outside, but Coleman's "new home," as described by the Vols defensive coordinator John Jancek, will be in the nickel position.

Jancek said the senior defensive back, who has started 21 consecutive games for the Vols and recorded eight pass deflections in 2013, will give the Vols a boost in a position they struggled mightily at last season.

"He's got improved size," Jancek said after UT's fourth practice of the spring on Thursday. "I like the way he can run and cover No. 2 receivers, and when he gets his hands on guys, he's able to move them out of the stem of the route. Those things are really positive.

"He is going through a learning curve again right now, obviously, going from an outside guy to now, a nickel guy, but he's got good knowledge and he's picking up pretty quick on it."

But while UT's coaches say Coleman has the physical tools to be a dominant nickel corner, they noted the position requires an in-depth focus on the other aspects of the opposing offense.

"It's very similar to the safety position, because you are tied into everything – the calls the checks," defensive backs coach Wilie Martinez said. "You're playing a position where you are lined up on the slot so you are seeing run as much as you are seeing pass and you have to be able it really well and make quick decision.

"And usually, the slot receiver is the best receiver on the offense, so you're matched up against a really good player."

Coleman, though, isn't the only player in the secondary to be dealing with a position change.

One of last year's nickelbacks, DeVaun Swafford – who split time with JaRon Toney – has been moved to safety in order to give the back end of the defense more speed overall.

The Kingsport, Tenn., started two ballgames for the last year and scored two touchdowns – a pick-six against the Florida Gators and a blocked punt return versus Georgia.

"We need to get some speed on the field," Jancek said. "Swafford was our nickel last year and we moved Justin there in the spring, so we got to find guys that can run in the back end of our defense and that's what we are trying to do.

"We're trying to put the pieces together that gives us the best combination of speed, knowledge and playmaking ability."

And with one defensive back spot open on the outside, a competition has broken out between Malik Foreman and Riyahd Jones, as well as early enrollees D'Andre Payne and Emmanuel Mosley, who have received high praise from their coaches thus far.

"They are both doing what they are exposed to be doing," Jancek said, "and obviously they are way behind in everything they are doing, but they have a great attitude and everyday is an important day for them."

Pearson proving a point

His spectacular one-handed catch over Malik Foreman to kick off Thursday practice was the highlight of the day.

For Von Pearson, an early enrollee JUCO transfer from Feather River C.C., it wasn't his first highlight reel play of the spring, but in that moment, his potential as a playmaker on the Tennessee offense shined.

But while his playmaking ability is creating a lot of buzz, his coaches are more impressed with how driven he is to succeed in a Tennessee uniform.

"It's unbelieveable," wide receivers head coach Zach Azzanni said with a smile. "I said to him the other day, 'Why are you so happy all the time, why do you always have your glass half full, I'm just wondering what goes on in your head?'

"He said to me, 'Coach, I've seen the other side. I've worked at Bojangles serving fried chicken and I've done that and now I'm here at Tennessee in the SEC. I don't want to go back,' and that's neat to hear him say that.

"He's got an opportunity that someone laid in front of him and he's going to take full advantage of it, so he told, 'Coach, this is easy. Real life stuff, that's hard. I'm good, I want to stay here,' so that's why he is the way he is."