By Bill Coats
Thursday, Dec. 20 2007

Offense or defense? Jonathan Wade was playing both ways — wide receiver and
cornerback — early in his career at the University of Tennessee and didn't
really have a preference. Until one particular afternoon.

"I caught a ball early in the game; later, I made a tackle for loss," recalled
Wade, a Rams rookie. "And to me, that tackle was a lot better than catching
that pass. It was incredible, and I was like, 'Man, this is what I want to do.'"

It wasn't so much that Wade preferred hitting to being hit.

"I just like the intensity on defense," he explained. "Offense sometimes can be
kind of be slow, but defense is always, 'rah, rah, rah, rah.' We're the bad
guys, you know? It's fun."

The fun quotient for Wade, who became a full-time cornerback for the Vols after
sitting out all but two games in 2003 because of a shoulder injury, is even
higher these days. With Tye Hill out for the season following wrist surgery,
Wade, a third-round draft pick (No. 84 overall), is getting increased playing
time as the nickel back.

He comes in on passing downs, taking outside coverage while Ron Bartell moves
in on the slot receiver.

"I think these games will do nothing but help (Wade) in the future," Rams
defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "It hinders your defense sometimes, but
how does anybody get better unless you're on the field?"

Ellis Wade, a salesman, and Victoria, a fourth-grade teacher, raised seven
children in Shreveport, La. Jonathan was an all-state football player at
Evangel Christian High but might have gained even more notice as a sprinter.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Wade still holds Louisiana prep records at 55, 100 and
200 meters, and was a track All-American at Tennessee. Despite that success,
track never captured Wade's heart the way football did.

"Track was something I loved then, but me winning a race ... nothing compared
to my first interception. Nothing," he said. "When that happened, that
solidified what I wanted to do."

His speed helped earn him extensive action on special teams this year. But his
time on defense had been limited until Hill went down two weeks ago.

"Jonathan has tremendous upside — a lot of talent, great speed and pretty much
the size that you're looking for at the corner position," Rams coach Scott
Linehan said. "He just doesn't have the experience. ... In the last month, I've
seen a more mature, confident player."

One that is looking to make an impression.

"Every opportunity you get is a chance to show what you've got," Wade said.
"Hopefully I can take advantage of this one."

Still, he concedes that he has much to learn about playing defensive back in
the NFL, and stressed that he embraces the schooling offered by the coaches and
veteran teammates.

"The people I'm able to be around every day ... you can learn something from
every person on this team," he said. "If you've been in the NFL a day longer
than me, you're a role model to me. I just try to take in what I can from every
aspect that they try to teach me and go from there."

Despite the rough edges, Wade "is getting better," Haslett said. "He's got to
keep working on his technique. But . . . he's going to be a good football

Wade acknowledged that he walked into Rams Park last spring with "no idea what
to expect, really." His season, he added, "has had its ups and downs, but I
guess all rookies go through that. ... It's hard, but it's worth it ... even
the 'downs.' I wouldn't trade this for anything in the world."