There’s a different feel to practice. There’s no Florida or Alabama game looming in a couple days, but there’s somewhat of an underlying sense of urgency for some veteran players especially. It’s no secret that the practice field will look different in a few months. Injured players will return. The rest of another highly-touted recruiting class will take the field as well, hungry for opportunities themselves.
So for a player like rising junior cornerback Malik Foreman, days like last Saturday’s situational scrimmage are almost as crucial as a mid-fall practice. Emmanuel Moseley was on the sideline with mono. Newcomers such as Justin Martin, Micah Abernathy and Darrell Miller still aren’t in the picture.
Foreman’s been handling the starting duties opposite of Cam Sutton at the outside corner spot. He made several plays on Saturday, helping lead the defense to one of its best days of the spring. Heading into his third year on campus, the Kingsport, Tenn., native knows this is his opportunity to carve out a role on the defense.
“I haven’t really had a role on defense since I’ve been here really,” Foreman said. “I feel like this year is my year to step up and help the defense, help this team win. I feel like just taking that all into account, it’s helping me push myself each and everyday.”
Foreman has some advantages aiding him in his pursuit of playing time this spring. For one, he’s tasted what SEC competition is like. He’s been a regular on special teams, including four kickoff return attempts, and has seen some action on defense, leading to 20 career tackles, a pass breakup and an interception in 22 career game appearances.
His speed is an asset as well. It’s that natural ability that Butch Jones saw late in 2012, leading him to offer Foreman out of Dobyns-Bennett and then making him the third commitment Jones received after arriving in Knoxville.
“The thing about fast DBs like myself, Cam (Sutton), Rashaan (Gaulden) and others, if our technique fails at the line, and that will happen sometimes, we have that speed to catch up and make ourselves right when we’re wrong,” Foreman said. “And I feel like that’s what we have as a secondary as a whole, Evan (Berry) and TK (Todd Kelly) even, we all have good speed back there, which helps us play faster.”
Now add confidence as well.
“Confidence level is pretty high right now,” Foreman said. “It’s the highest it’s been since I’ve been here. That’s just from offseason work, perfecting my techniques and just being more comfortable out there with the defense.
“Just the confidence,” Sutton said of what he’s seeing from his opposite corner. “We know he can make plays out here. He’s showing it each and every day. He’s competing and going up for balls, making tackles, doing things right and being coachable. He’s a high-energy, high-motor guy. That’s what we need from him.”
There’s still the reality, however, that the competition will rev up in a few months. That’s a good thing for the defense as a whole and that’s not lost on Foreman.
“Coming into fall camp, we have more corners coming in,” he said. “I feel like if those guys push each other and push us, we’ll have a lot of depth out there.”
But time is also ticking a bit for Foreman’s eligibility clock and he knows this can be somewhat of a make-or-break situation for him personally. He’s optimistic that his extra experience and maturity will help him make the most of the situation.
“When I came in, I was very young,” he said. “Just watching other guys like Justin (Coleman) and (Brian) Randolph, just helped me mature to become to the players I am now and I feel like a lot of it has clicked. This is my junior year, my third year in the program, so I feel like this is the year I’ve got to do something.”