Hunting down the ball: Freshman Hunter making plays

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley congratulates Justin Hunter after Hunter's 31-yard catch at the Oregon one yard line at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010. The Vols scored two plays later put them up 13-3.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley congratulates Justin Hunter after Hunter's 31-yard catch at the Oregon one yard line at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010. The Vols scored two plays later put them up 13-3.

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The ball doesn't have to be perfect.

All it has to be is close.

Tennessee tracks every ball thrown to its receivers, but the emergence of freakish freshman Justin Hunter has already forced it to develop a separate set of standards. There's a pretty clearly defined passing window for everybody else, but all it really takes when the Vols look to Hunter is that the ball ends up somewhere relatively near him on Saturday at Georgia (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.).

"It's something that we kind of anticipate with him now every time, to make those tough catches," UT quarterback Matt Simms said. "It's funny because they kind of judge us on our accuracy chart in practice sometimes and one of the coaches one day asked, 'Does the quarterback accuracy chart change when you're throwing it to Justin?' (Quarterbacks coach Darin) Hinshaw looks at me and goes 'Yeah, it does.'

"It's a little bit different for him because he can adjust to the ball in so many different ways in the air. We anticipate him making those plays all year long for us."

Hunter hasn't had a chance to make all that many yet for the Vols (2-3, 0-2 SEC), but in a role that's continuing to grow, the tall, springy target has already shown the athleticism that had the entire program raving during fall camp.

Through five games, Hunter's limited action has almost exclusively focused on deep patterns down the field - but that's been enough to get him six catches that have covered an average of 21 yards, one of them going for a touchdown. He also went on the road to LSU last week and made an acrobatic grab down the right sideline for 37 yards and a critical third-down conversion, yet another sign he might be ready for a heavier workload.

Based on his appearance in three-receiver sets in practice this week and continued praise from his teammates for his big-play ability, the Vols appear ready to unleash Hunter even more against the pass defense of Georgia (1-4, 0-3 SEC), which ranks last in the conference in efficiency.

But no matter how tight the coverage or accurate the pass might be for Hunter, so far there's been a clear winner when the ball is headed his way.

"When it comes down to the time that I need to make a play, coach calls on me and he throws it up and I have to come down with it either way," Hunter said during his first meeting with the media at UT. "It's mine. No matter what, I've got to get it. It's my job to get it. You go through that in practice and coach says the ball has to be yours.

"It's not the quarterback's fault if you mess it up. You have to go get it."

Few players have the ability to go do it quite like Hunter, one of the best high, long and triple jumpers in the country coming out of high school. And he's also shown off his impressive speed early, putting himself in the mix as an option on special teams after a 12-yard punt return against UAB.

Hunter's even quieted perhaps the biggest concern about his ability to contribute early, packing on eight pounds to his slight, 6-foot-4, 186-pound frame and not showing any shyness around contact.

"I've heard that a lot but people are starting to change their minds now since they've seen I can take a hit," Hunter said. "I'm not just a track guy. I'm also a football player. That's why I like to play receiver."

Hunter's knack for making tough catches also makes it easier on his quarterback, which figures to give him a chance to run a bit more often on the football field as well.

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Comments » 44

bspurlingcac#225603 writes:

Looks like Hunter will be getting better each week. GBO!

mattnchatt writes:

Show'em Green ain't the only elite receiver on the field Saturday.

bluetick writes:

I can't wait to see him in a couple of years. Dude is going to be great! So is this whole team.

DMyles writes:

This kid is gonna be a great one. That first big catch he had vs the Ducks was very impressive. He went up and caught the ball out of his area. I don't know if he needed the extra hang time to adjust to the ball or just lost his balance but he landed on his knees from a pretty high jump. I was scared he was going to be hurt but he popped right up to his feet and tried to keep running. Going all the way up to get a ball like that and being able to hold onto it while landing on your knees is very impressive for a freshman.

nicknack1 writes:

I wish we could see more of Da'Rick too. Justin Hunter was a great steal for us. Go Vols!

FWBVol writes:

Justin Hunter is a prime example of the player CDD is capable of landing. UT wasn't even on his map when Little Surfer Boy headed west, but Derek Dooley made Hunter and Da'Rick a priority and landed both.

Timed_vol (Inactive) writes:

Reminds me (somewhat) of Larry Sievers.

UTbassdrummer writes:

Hunter is foreal. So exciting. Da'Rick has
looked real scrappy, pulling for extra yards
when we do get him the ball. He'll be a
beast when we start using him.

These boys will be brutal with some games
under their belts. I'm so excited.

Fryinpansvols writes:

The catch against LSU was the best by a UT receiver all season. GBO and beat Georgia!

hcjournals#206623 writes:

Hunter is the real deal. So is DaRick. We're going to have a lot of fun with these two.....And then they'll be millionaires.....Cool....

VolcroW writes:

weve got some really good young talent between Huner, Rodgers, and Bray there all gonna look very good in a couple years, but Hunter is leading the way of these three GO VOLS

SpiralBound writes:

I'm kind of wondering where Stocker got lost in all this? Not to knock Simms, but I wish we had a QB who could get him the ball.

crimsonviper writes:

Hunter is one of those you only have to watch a few plays to see he has (it)..Destined to play on Sundays.
Free Witch Doctor!

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Kudoes!

Need several plays by playmakers this Sat.

GBO.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

His ball concentration is excellent;thats one reason he's making such plays..Chaney still considers long pass plays low precentage and Simms doesn't have enough time in the pocket for some plays to develop unless he locks in on a obvious mismatch..All these things will come in time but for now with defenses exploiting our Oline with blitzing we are forced to settle for any WR open..I watched Saban blitz Brantly from 20 something possiblities against an experienced FLA. Oline...They may have 8 sacks on Simms before halftime

tmartin writes:

Well he obviously isnt as good as zach rodgers or he would be on the field. Maybe he should go up to Dooley, and say "throw me the #@&^ ball"

Wake up Dooley, hunter is a stud and rodgers should be at UTC or UTM

iowavol writes:

in response to Driving_Ms_Dooley:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

If Richt is outed at GA, I hope we go after Garner hard. The drop off in recruiting started with losing him.

As for Hunter, I'd like to see Simms start throwing a little high to his back shoulder in tight coverage. From what I've seen, Jhunt will pull down the majority of them.

BigBadVol writes:

I know its early but he reminds me of Randy Moss. Great speed with an uncanny ability to adjust to the ball.

The7Maxims writes:

I expect Da'Rick to become a huge part of our offense as time progresses because of Hunter. It's the Randy Moss thing: Wes Welker seemed to always be wide open; a lot of that was Welker, but Moss' ability to stretch the field along with his required double coverage made a Wes Welker/Julian Edelman great. Teams will soon commit their 2 best DB's to Hunter, which means that Rogers is going to be one on one with some scrubs. All of the underneath patterns will be wide open because Hunter will go deep and clear out 20/30 yards of open field. If we can protect our QB, look out! Rogers has the most to gain by Hunters early success than one may think.

The screens and draws are going to open up. I think that Dooley may have set himself up for a lot of success by pulling in Hunter.

OrangePride writes:

Hunter IS the real deal! He has special athletic abilities and, in the games and years to come, he is going to open a lot of eyes around the SEC. Just glad he's a Tennessee Vol! Now go light up the joint in Athens. GO VOLS!

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctors ghost say with a nickname like "Bones" he has to be good.
Bones never lie.

hikerdude writes:

in response to iowavol:

If Richt is outed at GA, I hope we go after Garner hard. The drop off in recruiting started with losing him.

As for Hunter, I'd like to see Simms start throwing a little high to his back shoulder in tight coverage. From what I've seen, Jhunt will pull down the majority of them.

"...a little high to his back shoulder..." You have got to be kidding. I'd he happy if Simms could throw the ball to a spot within six feet of a receiver, any spot

tennrich1 writes:

in response to SpiralBound:

I'm kind of wondering where Stocker got lost in all this? Not to knock Simms, but I wish we had a QB who could get him the ball.

Acutally Luke has dropped three that I can remember off the top of my head that were placed right on target. He needs to keep going to him but Luke needs to show toughness in traffic and hang on to the ball!

tennrich1 writes:

in response to tmartin:

Well he obviously isnt as good as zach rodgers or he would be on the field. Maybe he should go up to Dooley, and say "throw me the #@&^ ball"

Wake up Dooley, hunter is a stud and rodgers should be at UTC or UTM

Thars the ole boy!!!!

jobrando#216494 writes:

in response to bluetick:

I can't wait to see him in a couple of years. Dude is going to be great! So is this whole team.

If he has a great year next year then I suspect he will be gone. Got to keep them coming in. About time DaRick stepped up.

jesusvol4 writes:

Justin Hunter is special. He will continue to develope and be a top draft pick in 2-3 years. Go VOLS!

RemembertheAlamo writes:

How can you get better, if you only get one pass thrown to you each game? One Pass for 37 yards against LSU and never saw him again. Come on Chaney learn how to call plays. Should have passed the ball on 4th and 1 instead of running up the middle which we had not been able to do all night.

TKG_VOL writes:

in response to UTbassdrummer:

Hunter is foreal. So exciting. Da'Rick has
looked real scrappy, pulling for extra yards
when we do get him the ball. He'll be a
beast when we start using him.

These boys will be brutal with some games
under their belts. I'm so excited.

Da'Rick was 6-3 206 4.4 5* out of high school. Hunter was 6-4 176 4.4 4* out of high school. For some reason Hunter has stepped up ahead of Da'Rick but I think eventually both will be tough to contend with. Jones will probably be our lead receiver this year as long as he is healthy but next year I feel both these guys will be great. Need to recruit heavy for OLs to protect Sims and Bray. GO VOLS beat the Dawgs like Dogs.

volfan133 writes:

Please tell me. If everyone knows how athletic this kid is. When we have been in the Red Zone, why hasn't a fade route hasn't been thrown to him yet??? I just don't understand it...

Ironcity writes:

in response to jobrando#216494:

If he has a great year next year then I suspect he will be gone. Got to keep them coming in. About time DaRick stepped up.

In college football a player cannot be drafted until after his third. I think a bigger issue would be grades or the KPD for any of our players.

gatorhator4eva writes:

in response to JoeMama:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

good point, let's go vols, lets step it up!!! now!

BHSVol writes:

It seems to me that Simms has the abilitly to make big plays, but a few plays later screws up. Im excited to watch him mature and settle down after a big play and continue on with the drive. GBO

tennezz writes:

in response to Timed_vol:

Reminds me (somewhat) of Larry Sievers.

He can catch the ball like Sievers, But he is much, much faster!

TKG_VOL writes:

in response to JoeMama:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I guess that means LSU and FLA. are not very good either?

Crutch writes:

in response to SpiralBound:

I'm kind of wondering where Stocker got lost in all this? Not to knock Simms, but I wish we had a QB who could get him the ball.

I think alot of this has to do with Stocker being forced to stay around the line to protect for Simms because of the inexperienced line. Simms has had a few opportunities to hit up Stocker and over threw him as well, though.

cooper65#432178 writes:

in response to SpiralBound:

I'm kind of wondering where Stocker got lost in all this? Not to knock Simms, but I wish we had a QB who could get him the ball.

True. Stocker is a first class TE; he needs the ball. Maybe we need to do more short drops and Simms needs to get rid of the ball. At this point, we can't protect the deep drops. I would like to see DA'Rick get more action. If we lose to Jawja, we need to start looking toward who can contribute in 2011/2012 and get them on the field.

Juzkruzin writes:

in response to SpiralBound:

I'm kind of wondering where Stocker got lost in all this? Not to knock Simms, but I wish we had a QB who could get him the ball.

Stocker just isn't concentrating on catching the ball for some reason. Last year anything close to him he caught. Think how many passes he has dropped this season. He was picked 1st Team All-SEC and I thought we would have some bragging rights there, since we haven't had a Tight End even close to the top in voting since Jason Whiten. Stocker is one of my favorities players since I played TE also and with his size he should own the middle of the field. Come on Stocker and have a helluva game this Sat. You got all the tools just put them all in the right places and have about 6-8 catches for the BO!!

beef4davols writes:

in response to RemembertheAlamo:

How can you get better, if you only get one pass thrown to you each game? One Pass for 37 yards against LSU and never saw him again. Come on Chaney learn how to call plays. Should have passed the ball on 4th and 1 instead of running up the middle which we had not been able to do all night.

vs. LSU
Poole, T. 24 car 109 yds 1 td 4.5 avg

your right we couldn't run all day...you're a moron.

jrobi124 writes:

CDD needs to take rogers out some reps and put hunter in more. Rogers is dropping to many passes. hunter is going to be a great WR for the vols.

cloudodust writes:

Weapons. We've got 'em but getting the ball to them is the tricky part. OL, do your job and Simms will have a great day. Get D. Rogers involved Saturday. If there's a game for him to really get up for this year, it'll be between the hedges. Moore, GJones, Hunter, D Rogers, Stocker, Poole and Oku. Com 'on OL. This is your time..! GBO

psychovol2 writes:

The Vols are loaded at receiver this year. Nevertheless, The line has got to give Simms some time to get the ball out to take advantage of them. He's not going through his progressions that fast yet so he needs time. He's a tough QB so just give him some time in more ways than one.

mytrifecta writes:

If I have one complaint about the offensive play selection it would be calling this kids number more often. He's shown he can make plays and getting him 3-5 touches a game can only be a good thing.

murrayvol writes:

Will Hunter develop the way Randy Moss did? Don't know but he has that look about him.

Looking forward to watching him for the next few years.

Mobbdeep4life writes:

Both Da'Rick and Justin will be great receivers for UT before all is said and done. I read on Twitter that Hunter wants to weigh 200 lbs by next season. If he does or gets above that weight then watch out. With his height, leaping ability and strength he will be dangerous. Da'Rick already has great size. I look forward to seeing more of him as the season progresses. I hear Da'Rick just needs to pick up the nuances of the offense better but he definitely has the athletic ability.

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