Matt Milton making ‘tremendous’ progress

Back in the picture

Tennessee warms up prior to a scrimmage at Neyland Stadium Saturday, April 2, 2011.

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee warms up prior to a scrimmage at Neyland Stadium Saturday, April 2, 2011.

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.

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.

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Comments » 18

Bigger_Al writes:

Didn't know he was a QB in High School. Maybe we'll see the ol' end around BOMB some day.

tovolny writes:

Our WRs should WATCH SOME VIDEOS of South Carolina's Jeffreys and decide if they are TOUGH ENOUGH to run the same routes. Last year Jones was the only receiver tough enough to run the middle of the field routes...and he was too short. Our opponents knew to just cover the outside. Very few passes were thrown over the middle without jones. Moore was wide open a lot LONG over the middle, but Simms or Bray didn't have time to fling it. BLOCKING and TACKLING is what football is about. It really does't take a STUD QB if the blocking is there...just ask the ole ball coach or Danny Wuerful (spelling?)... Besides White at Oklahoma, Danny W. is probably the worst QB to ever win a Heisman. Florida's O line should have collectively received more recognition. According to the voters, DW was better than PM...go figure.

kcbigorngX writes:

While it's true those gator teams of the 90's collectively wore down their opponents, Wuerfel did his job exceptionally well. He got the ball to the open receiver accurately.

The name you are looking for is Gino Torreta.

murrayvol writes:

in response to tovolny:

Our WRs should WATCH SOME VIDEOS of South Carolina's Jeffreys and decide if they are TOUGH ENOUGH to run the same routes. Last year Jones was the only receiver tough enough to run the middle of the field routes...and he was too short. Our opponents knew to just cover the outside. Very few passes were thrown over the middle without jones. Moore was wide open a lot LONG over the middle, but Simms or Bray didn't have time to fling it. BLOCKING and TACKLING is what football is about. It really does't take a STUD QB if the blocking is there...just ask the ole ball coach or Danny Wuerful (spelling?)... Besides White at Oklahoma, Danny W. is probably the worst QB to ever win a Heisman. Florida's O line should have collectively received more recognition. According to the voters, DW was better than PM...go figure.

Danny Wuerffel's game didn't translate to the NFL but he was a helluva college qb and deserved whatever awards he received.

He was born to play in Spurrier's offense.

VOLliven2it writes:

Just step up and catch the ball all three. That will be bigger than any nickname you or anyone else gives. We will need you all three all year.

bnakk#240693 writes:

In sports "The Big Three" means Nicklaus, Player, and Palmer......these guys have got some serious work to do if they want to take that nickname!

CroKev writes:

in response to bnakk#240693:

In sports "The Big Three" means Nicklaus, Player, and Palmer......these guys have got some serious work to do if they want to take that nickname!

Until about a year and a half ago, "The Big 3" were being supplanted by a young kid from Stanford. If things stay the way they are, they will have to at least change that moniker to "The Big 4." If Woods ever gets his mojo back, it will be "The One* " (he gets an asterix for cheating on his wife and letting untold numbers of fans down).

rbhobbs73#226545 writes:

The Big 3 were Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.

VOLliven2it writes:

in response to VOLliven2it:

Just step up and catch the ball all three. That will be bigger than any nickname you or anyone else gives. We will need you all three all year.

Oh yeah, you three, block downfield too so we can have a stronger running game. GO VOLS!

CoverOrange writes:

in response to 02champs#209256:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Having "miles to go" and making "tremendous progress" are not incongruent statements.

nocleats writes:

#1, Faster Quicker Stronger EVERY Day
#2, Learn the playbook inside and out.
#3, Run perfect routes, EVERY Time!
#4, Beat Press Coverage
#5, Learn to BLOCK, Knock people down!
#6, CATCH THE BALL if its thrown to you, EVERY time
#7 Hold on to the ball AFTER you catch it!
#8, Practice steps 1-7 EVERY DAY

givehim6 writes:

Hope to hear your name alot this year with the word TOUCHDOWN Mr Milton.

trubleoj#657755 writes:

google cover 8 and you'll get Larry Slade trying to sell you a DVD.

Volborn writes:

The "Big 3" is okay. Just don't call yourselves "The Future".

Crutch writes:

in response to trubleoj#657755:

google cover 8 and you'll get Larry Slade trying to sell you a DVD.

I could have sworn it was referred to as "Third and Chavis" instead of cover 8?

CoverOrange writes:

in response to trubleoj#657755:

google cover 8 and you'll get Larry Slade trying to sell you a DVD.

I guess they have deleted the cover 13 defense from the playbook for this year.

volcycle writes:

in response to Volborn:

The "Big 3" is okay. Just don't call yourselves "The Future".

That one made me laugh!!

bahamapapavol writes:

Don't these reporters know what wind socks or muffles are? You can hardly make out what the people being interviewed are saying for the wind noise. Get with it guys......if you don't want to buy them, just throw a heavy sock over the mike!

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