Posted: 9:00 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013
By Will Shelton
Tennessee was 15th nationally in passing yardage last season at 315.6 yards per game and 8th nationally with 35 touchdowns through the air. Of the Vols' 3,787 yards in the pass game last season, only 605 are back this fall, and 377 of those belong to Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane. Tennessee's current depth chart at wide receiver returns eight catches from Jacob Carter, thirteen from Pig Howard, and five from Devrin Young. Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter are going in your fantasy draft. All that remains is mystery.
But it's a promising mystery, no doubt. In 2012 Tennessee signed the best group of wide receivers in the nation, and while Patterson got his due last year, now guys like Jason Croom and Pig Howard have a chance to fully step into the spotlight. The brightest light in preseason camp has shined on true freshman Marquez North, Tennessee's highest ranked recruit this past February. Paul Harris, Josh Smith, and Ryan Jenkins should also get looks in their first season in orange.
This coaching staff loves to carry a bunch of bodies at wide receiver. Right now the Vols have only eleven on scholarship, but none of them are seniors; three more are already committed in the Class of 2014. There is a world of potential with this group, but how quickly will it mature? In UT's up-tempo system, the Vols can't afford so many miscues and drops that have shown up in both the Orange & White Game and last week's open practice. Plain and simple, UT isn't good enough to overcome it.
But the Vols should still have a bunch of untapped talent at this position. In the slot, Pig Howard and Devrin Young have been drawing rave reviews throughout training camp and bring an extra dimension to the Vol offense. I'm not sure if Marquez North will end up being the number one target or not, but this offense doesn't necessarily have to have a go-to guy. The last two years at Cincinnati, targets were spread far and wide. In 2012 five players caught between 24 and 45 passes. In 2011 four players caught between 37 and 49 passes. When it's humming, this is an offense that doesn't rely on one guy to move the ball, which is good because no freshman should be asked to come in and be that one guy right away.
The Vols have a good mix of returning players getting their first real look at meaningful action since they played behind Da'Rick, Justin, and CP, and newcomers looking to get in the mix right away. The first group includes Cody Blanc, Jacob Carter, Pig Howard, and Devrin Young now at receiver full time. The second group includes Jason Croom and all the freshmen. And don't forget the tight ends in this picture; Brendan Downs returns healthy after a knee injury, and newcomer Woody Quinn looks to translate volleyball skills into football skills.
As stated yesterday, we've been fooled before by, "We've got so many bodies, surely we can find 3-4 that can play!" at defensive back. There are no guarantees with this receiving corps, especially with an unproven quarterback throwing them the football. So the growing pains may be severe in 2013. But even that won't mean the Vols are untalented at this position. It may be a bit of Wide Receiver Who? right now, but the raw talent and potential in this group can still mature to help the Vols continue to be known as Wide Receiver U down the road.