September 25, 2008

Inside the helmet: Vinson making the cut

It was supposed to be a one-time show of solidarity, but now Brent Vinson finds himself in the same spot each week before a Tennessee football game: in the barber's chair, doing his best "Mr. T" impersonation.

And though the Vols' sophomore defensive back doesn't often get to showcase his new Mohawk hairstyle, it's there.

"I guess we just do it just to try not really draw attention, but everybody figured we'd just do something crazy to our hair," said the 6-foot, 190-pounder from Hampton, Va. "A lot of people got egos and they won't get their hair cut like that because they worry about what people say about them. We just kind of go as our DB group and get our hair cuts and just go out there and play, man.

"Now I kind of like it, so me and (Demetrice) Morley are keeping our haircuts and Eric (Berry's) getting parts shaved in his head. Every week I think we're going to have something different."

Already a fiercely competitive group battling among each other for top interception honors, UT's secondary now vies for top honors in an unofficial category: best new 'do.

"Each week we see who has the best one. Morley got me last week, he had a 'T' in his head," Vinson said. "We've got like a little book that we look at, and sometimes when (the barber's) doing the haircuts he just asks us what do we want and I just tell him to do whatever he wants to do. Morley got lucky and got the 'T' in his head like the Tennessee helmet. He beat me this time."

Few opponents are beating Vinson's coverage on the field. After serving a one-game academic suspension in the Vols' opening loss at UCLA, Vinson redoubled his efforts and steadily earned more playing time. He was on the field increasingly more against UAB and Florida and should again garner significant playing time Saturday when the Vols (1-2, 0-1 SEC) visit 15th-ranked Auburn (3-1, 1-1) at Jordan-Hare Stadium (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS).

"As a freshman I did a lot of stupid things. But I just want to try to better myself every day and not listen to any negative talk from anybody and get better as a person myself," he said. "I owe my teammates a lot, and I just try to work hard and do the right thing every day and all that's been kind of trickling down to on the practice field and things like that."

Teammates have noticed a change in Vinson, who logged extra hours in the film room with wunderkind safety Eric Berry before the Florida game. Vinson, who nabbed Freshman All-SEC honors last year, was credited with two tackles in the contest, including one for a loss, and broke up a pass the week before against UAB.

"He's working hard. He's doing all the little things right, all the things that coaches have been getting on him about," senior cornerback DeAngelo Willingham said. "He's improved on and off the field, and we're proud of him. We need him, too."

Saying he's "a lot better practice player," Vinson has seen the increased film work and improved practice demeanor yield significant results on the field.

"My teammates can tell, my coaches can tell too," the converted wideout said of his comfort in the secondary. "Last year I had to think about what plays I had to do, but now I get out there and I know exactly how to play different coverages and when I see different offensive spreads, I know how to play those. I feel a lot more comfortable using my athletic ability a lot because I've been studying plays a lot."

Vinson has studied his teammates, too. Berry, Morley and Vinson all have donned the Mohawk style. Willingham, well, Vinson believes that's imminent.

"He'll get one. Willingham will get one. We're going to make him get one this week," Vinson said.

Not so fast, said the soft-spoken Willingham.

"Probably when we play South Carolina, I'll think about it," Willingham said.

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