In a 5-7 season, a team often loses sight of whatever good fortune comes its way. So the reasonably good health of UT’s 2008 football team is easily forgotten amid all the mishaps.
But it came to mind Tuesday when it was announced that three wide receivers were injured.
Austin Rogers will miss the season with a torn knee ligament. Denarius Moore has a broken bone in his foot, which could sideline him for a couple of early games. Gerald Jones’ recovery from wrist surgery hasn’t gone as well as expected and he likely will miss preseason training camp.
An outbreak of injuries invariably raises the question: “Who’s next?” You see it with various teams from time to time, when one injury leads to another until an entire season is portrayed as “injury-riddled.”
Since the Vols are uncharacteristically lacking in proven depth, they are ill prepared to overcome a rash of injuries. But they’re certainly capable of weathering this week’s medical storm at wide receiver.
First of all, you have to keep the attrition in perspective. It’s not as though UT lost a Julio Jones or A.J. Green. Rogers caught only 14 passes last season, and Moore caught 11. Moreover, both Moore and Gerald Jones, who led the Vols with 30 catches, don’t figure to be long-term losses.
Their absence in preseason training camp will provide more reps and a greater opportunity for four freshman wide receivers, as well as a couple of veterans seemingly in danger of falling by the wayside last season. UT wide receivers coach Frank Wilson addressed those issues on the The Sports Page radio show Tuesday morning.
Wilson said quarterback Jonathan Crompton just told him how impressive freshman wide receivers Nu’Keese Richardson and Marsalis Teague have been in preseason workouts. Both are small, fast, athletic players whom new UT coach Lane Kiffin and his staff snared away from Florida in the 11th hour of recruiting.
There had been speculation about Teague playing cornerback at UT, but Wilson said he has been working at wide receiver in the off-season, even before injuries shook up the depth chart.
UT fans might be skeptical about freshman wide receivers having an immediate impact. Under the previous coaching regime, quarterbacks were more apt to distinguish themselves than receivers as freshmen.
“Our offense is receiver friendly,” Wilson said assuredly.
Appropriate UT fans response: Hallelujah!
The “receiver friendly” offense already has a convert in Quintin Hancock, who was honored as the most improved offensive player in UT’s spring practice. Hancock looked like a future star in preseason scrimmages before the 2007 season, but those performances didn’t carry over into the regular season. He enters his senior year with only 18 career catches after going 0-for-Clawson last season, which was Dave Clawson’s first and last as a UT offensive coordinator.
Brandon Warren, a former Alcoa standout who excelled as a freshman tight end at Florida State, didn’t fare much better, catching 10 passes for 85 yards. When he was moved to wide receiver this spring, he wasn’t an instant hit.
But Wilson says, “We have high expectations for him as a receiver.”
Even before this week’s injury update, this receiving corps was more about expectations and potential than production. You could say the same for the overall passing game as well. The receivers, quarterbacks and offensive line were all inadequate last year.
Now, they have a new coaching staff and a new offensive system in which to redeem themselves.
A few injuries don’t have to slow the redemption process. In fact, in a best-case scenario, they could expedite it.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.