By Alex Norman
When the opportunity arises we like to have conversations with the playmakers around town. Recently we had the chance to sit down with Tennessee defensive back Rashaan Gaulden, and talked about, among other things, his return from injury, and those sky high expectations for the Vols…
Knoxville Focus: Certainly there has been a well-publicized change for the Tennessee defense with Bob Shoop replacing John Jancek as the Vols defensive coordinator. What is Coach Shoop like and what does he bring to the table?
Rashaan Gaulden: He is an aggressive coach. He’s a great guy and knows what he is going to do. He is one of the smartest coaches I have ever had. I like his style of coaching.
KF: Are there major differences between Coach Shoop and Coach Jancek?
RG: The structure, the attention to detail… and there’s more accountability in terms of film watching and getting in with the coaches.
KF: You are coming off an injury that cost you the entire 2015 season. Did that make spring practice even more important?
RG: You can say that. During (Outback) bowl prep I was able to get out there and get my feet wet. I just wanted to come out this spring and prove that I can progress from week to week and prove I am better than I was before my injury.
KF: How difficult was it last year watching from the sidelines?
RG: It was really tough watching my teammates put it on the line each down and watching fourth quarter games where they came up short. It was tough to watch and not be able to contribute, but I was a team guy. Coach (Willie) Martinez put me in a role to where I could help Malik (Foreman) who stepped in to the nickelback position and I helped him with pointers after games.
KF: What did you learn going through all that?
RG: I went back to basics. I told myself that I won’t get complacent anymore as far as feeling entitled or taking a practice for granted because you never know when a season can be taken away or football can be taken away.
KF: This Tennessee secondary is deep and has experience across the board. How good can you guys be?
RG: Our secondary can be really good and one of the best units on our defense, but we want to play complimentary defense. Our (defensive) line will be really good, our linebackers are really good. All the competition at cornerback and the safety position elevates our game. All the guys pushing each other every day to reach your max potential as a secondary… it will be great battle and competition.
KF: Your roommate is (Tennessee safety) Todd Kelly Jr…
RG: He’s picked up the torch from (recently departed) Brian Randolph and LaDarrell
McNeil. He’s one of those really cerebral guys. We have a close bond. I can ask him questions about playing safety now that I’ve moved to that position. He’s filled that leadership role and is trying to make me a leader as well.
KF: Todd played at Webb School; you are an in-state guy too… Do the guys from Tennessee take even more responsibility to get the Vols back among the elite teams in the nation?
RG: Yes, we take a huge responsibility. We are very active in recruiting guys. Our job is to give a great pitch that we had one of best mid-state classes to ever come through here… this 2017 class coming up has real talent and I feel they can be up with us. We can start this pipeline and bring in championships for this program.
KF: Certainly the expectations are high for this Tennessee team heading into the 2016 season. How do you guys deal with the hype?
RG: We ignore the hype. We see what we have every day, and we know we are going to be special. It’s just putting our best guys out there, follow the coach’s plans and trust each other and bond.