Matt Milton comments after the Vols' Saturday scrimmage
Matt Milton was the one with the head start.
Of the three freshmen wide receivers expected to have a chance to get on the field last fall, Milton was the only one getting reps with Tennessee at this time a year ago before Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers came to join him.
And once they arrived, the other two members of the so-called Big Three flew right past him, making big plays and a bigger impression for the Vols while Milton was struggling at times to catch up.
In some respects, Milton continues to lag behind his classmates and good friends as UT hits the midway point of spring practice this week. But thanks in part to that jump he got a year ago as he transitioned to a new position, a larger playbook and a different level of competition, Milton might be getting close to living up to that nickname the targets gave themselves.
"We came up with that, and we thought it would be cool," Milton said. "We took a picture with all three of us in it, but it hasn't been able to get used yet because I haven't stepped my game up yet.
"But I'm getting there - we might be able (to get) us that picture now."
There still is some work to do before the Vols hang any frames with Milton inside them, but he's earned a steady stream of praise for his work in the offseason after a trying season with limited action and no receptions a year ago.
A quarterback in high school, Milton arrived with the physical tools and athleticism to make a mark on the other end of the passing game with the Vols. But he wasn't ready to do it right away thanks to a combination of veterans ahead of him on the depth chart, difficulty absorbing more intricate play-calls and inconsistency catching the football.
And while Milton readily admitted there was frustration from watching Rogers and Hunter move more seamlessly into the lineup, he seems to have channeled it into an effort to not get left behind for good.
"At one point it was difficult, but I just use it as motivation," Milton said. "You know, I love seeing them play great. If you watched last year, I was always the first one congratulating them when they scored, but I really just used it as motivation. Watching them out there made me want to get it right and get out there and play football.
"When I came in, really it was just about adjusting to the defenses. I never really read a defense. In high school it was, 'Yellow-five, post.' Or, 'Run to the right,' because I was at the quarterback spot. Here it was just learning schemes, concepts, defenses, cover-two, cover-three, cover-four, cover-eight - I didn't even know there was a cover-eight. So, really it's just learning how to read defenses and learning what route to run."
Milton turned three of those routes into catches during Saturday's first scrimmage, picking up 35 yards and converting one of them into a touchdown.
Collectively, the Big Three was responsible for all four big scores on an otherwise forgettable afternoon throwing the ball, with Hunter adding one and Rogers taking both of his receptions to the end zone.
After their breakout seasons a year ago, the Vols obviously were counting on Hunter and Rogers to take another step forward after the program lost Denarius Moore, Gerald Jones and Luke Stocker to graduation. But those two surely won't be able to replace the production of all three departed seniors by themselves - which is where their sidekick might come in handy.
"Matt has made tremendous, tremendous progress," Rogers said. "I mean, from what he was when he first got here, when we all first got here, to now - I want to say Matt has made the most progress out of anybody.
"He's the most improved, definitely."
And halfway through his second spring, Milton appears to be finding a way back into the picture.