Vols on Oregon: 'One heck of a challenge'
Dooley, Simms recap UT Martin
Tennessee can't afford to be patient with its true freshmen.
With at least one senior wide receiver definitely out of the lineup and the other questionable, youth will have to be served for the Vols this weekend.
Neither Justin Hunter nor Da'Rick Rogers have officially moved to the top of the UT depth chart heading into a marquee showdown with No. 11 Oregon on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.), but the broken hand that has sidelined Gerald Jones and the walking boot protecting a tender ankle for Denarius Moore could force a quick maturation for the highly touted youngsters.
"It's not a question of, 'Are they ready?' " quarterback Matt Simms said Monday at UT's weekly news conference. "They better be ready.
"It's going to be tough on them, there's going to be a lot asked of them. I'm going to be tough on them in practice and make sure that they're lined up right and doing the right things. They need to step up and make plays."
In terms of receptions, the tandem has only made one play so far - a 9-yard catch for Rogers in the easy win over UT Martin to open the season. But both have earned praise as run-blockers, and Hunter threw a big one against the Skyhawks to help spring a touchdown for Tauren Poole to give both receivers something to feel good about early.
And though training camp wasn't perfect for either player, for the most part they've lived up to the lofty expectations that have followed them since they signed with the Vols in February. But now they'll need to back that hype up in an actual game much earlier than UT might have expected.
"Well, Zach (Rogers) will start (for Jones), and he'll do good," coach Derek Dooley said. "But the freshmen, yeah, we're going to have to bring them along a little quicker than we anticipated. But that's why we signed them, because we don't have a lot of depth and that's kind of where we are at that position. It's really sort of a microcosm of a lot of other positions - we have some seniors and we have some freshmen, so that's where we are.
"They didn't really have a lot of opportunity (last week). Da'Rick caught a pass, which is always good to get that first one under your belt. He looked calm and it seemed very simple, but he looked good doing it. Once (backup quarterback) Tyler (Bray) went in, especially in the fourth quarter, I just didn't think it was right to throw the ball. I would have liked to get them to run routes and throw them some balls, but I just didn't think that was the right thing to do as a coach. We can develop them the next week."
The urgency to do that surely increased dramatically when the break in Jones' left hand was confirmed on Sunday. On Monday, Rogers said Jones had surgery to repair the break. He will be out for games against Oregon and No. 4 Florida over the next two weeks.
There might never have been a good time to lose a veteran presence who opened the season in great shape by all accounts. He reinforced that perception by making six catches for 86 yards before leaving in the third quarter against UT Martin to get his hand checked. But based on the difficulty of the schedule and how little time the Vols have had to ease the freshmen into action, it would have been tough for the timing to have been much worse.
"Really, the way I look at it is it's really devastating for Gerald himself," Simms said. "He's worked so hard this offseason and going into your senior year, you don't want to miss some of the biggest games of the year. Especially the one coming up and the one (after that), and I really do feel terrible for him. I really do, because I've gotten to know him the past few months.
"Now it's time for these young freshmen to step up and make some plays for us, and they're going to have to."
The Vols don't have any time to wait.