Last November, putting himself in the right position allowed Eric Gordon to foil Vanderbilt’s plans.
Nine months later, the Tennessee junior is hoping to be the “star” of the Vols’ new defensive scheme.
The former Hillsboro High standout shined at the right moment last year, when he intercepted quarterback Jordan Rodgers in overtime and raced 90 yards for the game-winning touchdown in a 27-21 victory over the Commdores.
He was playing nickel back that night and jumped in front of wide receiver Wesley Tate for the game-deciding pick. So far during preseason camp, Gordon is getting accustomed to a similar position – the star spot – in first-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri’s 3-4 base set.
The position is used in nickel packages and doubles as a nickelback and outside linebacker.
“I’m very comfortable at the star position,” Gordon said after practice this week during a weeklong stay at nearby Milligan College. “I love that physical style of play. The star position is a very versatile position, filling in the run, covering a few guys. So, yeah, I think it fits me perfectly.”
At 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, Gordon might be undersized but he has the speed and athletic ability needed for the position.
Those same skills also have gotten the fourth-year junior into trouble over the last two seasons. At times, he took a big risk and missed or came up short, allowing the offense a big play.
“Eric is doing good playing that star spot,” coach Derek Dooley said. “He is active, he is disruptive, he makes play. Of course his challenge is consistency. I think it is going to help create a little bit more disruptiveness against the offense.”
Other than his big play against Vanderbilt he was relatively quiet in 2011, finishing the season with two interceptions but just 16 tackles and one start. It was a far cry from 2010 when he played in all 13 games, making six starts and recording 47 tackles and two interceptions.
Moving into the star, where he is competing with Byron Moore for the starting spot, Gordon believes he’ll be able to string together more consistent efforts.
“I’ve had a few picks so far bit I need to lock down on my technique a little better,” he said. “I’ve been playing it for a while now. It’s a comfortable fit for me. ... They pretty much want me to know when to take the risks.”
And when to be the star.