It’s no secret that the Vols are searching for some playmakers to step up at wide receiver after the team lost nearly all of their production at the position from last season.
Tennessee’s returning receivers from last season have only 35 receptions among them. With very little experience in this group it’s easy for fans to not have a lot of hope for the receivers in 2013, but there’s actually plenty of room for optimism.
The Vols have several talented freshmen that have joined the roster, to go along with returning players such as Pig Howard, Vincent Dallas, Cody Blanc and redshirt freshman Jason Croom.
True freshmen Marquez North, Paul Harris and Ryan Jenkins are among the newcomers that could make an impact this season.
Even though there are no true freshmen listed as starters on the depth chart the Vols released before camp, it doesn’t mean there won’t be on August 31.
Vol legacy Ryan Jenkins was particularly impressive during individual team drills on Saturday. Jenkins quietly went about his job, making several nice grabs and receiving praise from wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni.
Jenkins wasn’t the only freshman that had a good showing on Saturday.
Paul Harris, a 6’4″/200 lb receiver that is likely to draw comparisons to former Vol receiver Justin Hunter, looked smooth during the Vols second practice. Harris made several catches and consistently drew praise from Azzanni for his crisp routes.
The freshman that fans are most excited about, by far, is Marquez North a 6’4″/215 lb receiver out of Charlotte, NC.
North has the size and speed combination to be an elite receiver in the SEC, but he does have some work ahead of him if he wants to get there.
The former four-star recruit is raw, but should see a good amount of playing time this season. North made a few missteps on Saturday, but took Azzanni’s advice and responded well immediately.
The Vol’s wide receivers coach had plenty of good things to say about North on Friday after Tennessee’s first practice.
You know what the great thing about Marquez is he doesn’t say a word. He says yes sir, no sir and goes as hard as he can so I like that. He definitely has a chance to be really good here.
All in all, head coach Butch Jones seems to be pleased with his freshman receivers so far.
I am very encouraged by our freshmen wide receivers, I think they have improved our football team. We are completing balls in practice. So I think they have been a big addition.
But it’s not just the freshmen that will have to step up this season.
Sophomore Pig Howard will have an important role for the Vols this season. Howard will play in the slot, a position Jones is known for developing (see Antonio Brown in the NFL). The second year receiver will be asked to play fast, something he acknowledged on Saturday saying “This tempo is a lot faster”.
Howard was another receiver that looked good in practice on Saturday and received compliments from Azzanni.
In addition to Howard, the Vols will look to junior Vincent Dallas and redshirt freshman Jason Croom.
Dallas is currently listed as a second team wide receiver, but he could find himself moving up the depth chart if he continues to show consistency and leadership — two traits that Butch Jones demands.
Croom is already listed as a starter. The 6’5″/223 lb receiver is an imposing figure on the field.
In addition to being able to win physical battles with defensive backs, Croom will be essential in the blocking game for the Vols.
Overall the Vols are in good shape at wide receiver. Yes there will be some growing pains, some bad routes and some inexcusable drops, but they’ll play hard and work hard everyday to get better.
One day at at time. That’s how the Vols are taking it right now. With the improvement the team has shown from spring to now, there’s no telling where they could be come August 31.