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Peerless Price, Joey Kent, Marcus Nash, Carl Pickens, Willie Gault, Donte Stallworth, Robert Meachem, the list goes on and on. Tennessee has for years produced incredible wide receivers, and at one time, was known as Wide Receiver U. Last week, Tennessee signed another crop of potentially great receivers, adding to a stable that already featured Da’rick Rogers, and Justin Hunter, which we have only seen in full capacity once. . .
The Vols signed the top JUCO prospect in WR Cordarrelle Patterson. Not to be overlooked are 6’5” giant Jason Croom, Drae Bowles, and speedster Alton Howard. After adding those new guys to the corps is it safe to say that Wide Receiver U has returned? Can Tennessee fans start hashtagging #WRU after every tweet? That’s a question that can’t be fully answered until kickoff but let’s take a look at the weapons that QB Tyler Bray will have in 2012.
Let’s start with the new guys, the recruits. Dooley has really focused on adding depth at his skill positions. Last season, Hunter went down with a season ending injury in September at Florida and everything went south from there. Bray began to favor only Rogers, until Bray also went out with an injury, and from there, the season fell to pieces. Was losing Hunter the cause? No, but it sure didn’t help. But in 2012, there will be depth. Injuries suck, yes, but when you have depth, you can account for them.
The biggest surprise for the Vols on signing day came when Patterson committed to Tennessee. Many thought he would end up at LSU or Georgia, but the top JUCO WR chose Knoxville. Tennessee coach Darin Hinshaw had been pursuing Patterson for a year and it paid off. Patterson will look to make an impact immediately. He’s got good size, and is a “bully” outside according to Scout.com. He also has surprising speed and is an all around weapon and will be another deep threat for Bray (and we know Bray loves to go deep). You can sum up what opposing defensive backs will think of when they line up across from Patterson in one word, nightmare.
Bowles is a solid instate pick up. He’s got good hands and I see him fitting into a roll a lot like Gerald Jones did in 2010, a go to guy on third down, great at getting open underneath, running slants and curls, and gaining solid yards. Where other receivers will be downfield threats, Bowles will fill in the vacancy left by DeAnthony Arnett who held a similar role before transferring this offseason.
Speed kills, and no doubt, Howard is a killer. Tennessee hasn’t had a breakaway speed guy for some time. “Pig” as he is called will add a different kind of threat in the slot. He can run jet sweeps (even the wildcat if needed) and if put into a match up with a linebacker, Howard can become a deep threat on wheel routes. With his speed he can run right by backs before they can even get their feet under them.
Croom has the advantage of size. He’s the ideal target for red zone jump balls and going up and grabbing balls out of the air. Not the fastest receiver, but there’s not a lot of guys that can contend with 6’5” size. Look for the Vols to call his number when they get inside the 20.
Speed, size, good hands, this class of receiver is versatile and fills plenty of needs the Vols have at wideout. Now let’s look at the weapons the Vols already have.
Rogers led the SEC in receptions in 2011 with 67, imagine what he could have done if he wasn’t double covered every single game due to the absence of Hunter. Rogers has off the field issues that can hold him back, but if he can get straightened out, he is going to be a crucial and dangerous weapon this year for Tennessee. Just watch the Cincinnati highlight reel for a preview of everything that Tennessee’s pass offense could be and more.
Hunter is expected to be 100% by March, the Vols will use him tentatively in the spring but expect him to be back for the fall, and that’s something to be excited about. Hunter has an insane ability to catch any ball put in his general area. He’s been compared to Randy Moss, and because of an injury, Tennessee has yet to see his full potential.
Rivera caught 29 balls in the 2011 season and one touchdown, including 5 for 85 yards against Georgia. He became a favorite target for Bray and will provide a solid option at tight end.
Rogers has seemingly been at Tennessee forever, but alas, this will be his final year on Rocky Top. Rogers, if anything, is consistent. He is not a playmaker and not the go-to guy when you need a big one, but he’s solid and has the potential to cause plenty of damage if ignored (which is very likely due to the sheer amount of threats all across the field).
The Vols return 8 other players who had receptions in 2011: Vincent Dallas, Brendan Downs, Rajon Neal (a dangerous out of the backfield threat of a running back) Marlon Lane (another running back with good hands) Cameron Clear, Channing Fugate, Devrin Young, and Ben Bartholomew. The targets will be all over the place.
I’m going to give you a universal truth about football. You can’t cover everyone. Someone is going to be open. And if your stable of targets is as talented as Tennessee’s, that open guy is going to have some talent. So it’s time to make my final judgement, will 2012 see the return of Wide Receiver U? You bet it will. And it’s all going to rest in the hands of Tyler Bray. For Bray, he’s going to have the weapons around him to fulfill his full potential as a quarterback. Now it’s on him to make the plays, make the throws. If there is anything we have learned about Tyler Bray is that he is extremely bold. Look for that trend to continue in 2012. Bray will throw interceptions, it’s going to happen, it’s the type of player he is, but he’s also going to make some incredible throws. Tennessee is going to have plenty of big plays, and long touchdowns. It will make your classic football fan cringe, but for the average fan, it’s going to be downright exciting and a heck of a lot of fun to watch.
The potential at Tennessee is scary. I think the run game will be essential. By no means will Tennessee line up and run it 40 times a game. But if you can’t line up and get three yards on the ground when you need it, you’re in trouble. I won’t be looking for Tennessee to have big runs and to wear down a defense through a smash mouth attack, that would be a waste. What I’ll be looking for is, when they do run, are they losing yardage like the Florida and Georgia games last year, or are they going forewords. There is a huge difference between gaining three yards and losing two. It will make Bray’s job much easier if they are able to as least do that.
To wrap up, yes, I do think Wide Receiver U will return in full force in 2012. I am excited to see what our gunslinger in Tyler Bray can do with the wealth of targets he will have. Once again, youth and depth are no longer an issue, now is the time to start making plays. The talent is there, the potential is there, and I think for Bray and the Vols offense, good things are finally going to start happening, and they will happen in droves.