Justin Hunter broadens his game

Deep threat working on short routes

Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter catches a touchdown pass from quarterback Tyler Bray over Ole Miss cornerback Jeremy McGee (back) and Fon Ingram (35) at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. 

This is my favorite action shot from UT football this season.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter catches a touchdown pass from quarterback Tyler Bray over Ole Miss cornerback Jeremy McGee (back) and Fon Ingram (35) at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. This is my favorite action shot from UT football this season.

Justin Hunter comments after practice - April 7, 2011

Justin Hunter does things most receivers can’t.

The next step is fine-tuning the aspects which don’t require the sophomore’s huge strides or gravity-defying leaping ability.

Hunter proved quickly during his first season with the Tennessee football team that his natural athleticism makes him a nightmare to match up against on the perimeter deep down the field, and it didn’t really require him to do a whole lot of learning to make big plays by running fast, jumping high and snagging balls defensive backs couldn’t reach. But to become an even more dangerous target, Hunter is having to learn how to work in tighter spaces.

“It really is important, because I know that everybody is going to try to stop the deep ball this year — just like they do in practice,” Hunter said after practice Thursday. “They’re always bracket-covering me on the deep ball, and I think that’s going to open up my deep ball again if I can get all the short routes down.

“They’re not difficult, it’s just that I’m so tall and lanky, I just have to be able to control my body to do some of those real quick routes. I’m a long-strider type of guy, and all the short stuff is going to be real new to me.”

The Vols were able to get plenty of production out of Hunter even without much variety in his game last season, and they played to his strengths as he piled up a staggering 25.9 yards per catch and scored seven touchdowns.

But with UT’s top three receivers from a year ago all gone thanks to graduation, it will be calling on Hunter to improve his reception total dramatically from 16 this fall — and if his average per catch dips a little, that could conceivably be a sign of progress.

“He also hasn’t mastered the long ball, either,” Vols coach Derek Dooley said. “You know, he really is starting all over. His thing is two-fold. One, it’s learning the craft of running routes, but two, it’s learning to play with a little more physicality. When defensive backs are putting their hands on him, (learning) what to do.

“So, he’s showing a lot of improvement and we’ve got to keep figuring out what he does well and try to get him the football because he’s a talented guy.”

Hunter also is still a skinny guy at 183 pounds, and with a 6-foot-4 frame, he’s a big target for defensive backs to attack in coverage near the line of scrimmage as well.

Fighting through physical coverage continues to be a focus of improvement for Hunter, and the ability to turn lengthy strides into short, choppy steps when he needs to is another part of the process of building him into a more complete package. But even without it, Hunter at least has an element to fall back on that most receivers can’t really offer.

“Randy Moss was a deep threat, but he did a lot of things other than run down the field and catch touchdown passes,” receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. “Blocking, running intermediate passes, going over the middle and catching the ball, I mean, there’s a lot of things that a so-called speed or down-the-field receiver can do to be a complete player. In order to be a complete player, you’ve got to be able to do that.

“We want to push all these guys to their limit, and I think Justin is the kind of kid that can take it.”

Hunter doesn’t appear to be opposed at all to the idea of working closer to the line of scrimmage and adding to his repertoire this spring. In fact, of his three catches in last week’s first scrimmage, none went for more than 15 yards.

But that certainly doesn’t mean he’s lost any of the skill that produced the comparisons with Moss in the first place.

“The deep ball, everybody is scared of it,” Hunter said. “But I can say that nobody is a decoy in our offense, so I’m going to be doing a lot of short stuff, too.”

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 » 25

Govolsinmemphica writes:

FIRST POST EVER!!!!!!

Govolsinmemphica writes:

FIRST POST EVER!

torchbearer writes:

in response to Govolsinmemphica:

FIRST POST EVER!

Worst Post Ever!!! You guys, chill with the first phooey. Beyatches.

VolGrad writes:

Just keep eating and pumping iron, Justin.

VolGrad writes:

in response to VolGrad:

Just keep eating and pumping iron, Justin.

Ok, I'll admit that was badly written, but you get the point.

:)

jack_2222#231746 writes:

Baggett is a smart guy- throwing out Randy Moss in subtle context to Hunter. He wouldn't ever do it unless he sensed Hunter is in that potential category.

jack_2222#231746 writes:

Baggett is a pro- throwing out Randy Moss in subtle context to Hunter. He wouldn't ever do it unless he sensed Hunter is in that potential category.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

I love Dooley telling it straight up like it is..."He also hasn't mastered the long ball, either!"...keep 'em humble and hungry! GBO!

peyton4heisman writes:

Julio Jones, AJ Green, Alshon Jeffery, Justin Hunter... glad we finally have a "nightmare" receiver or our own. It's been too long! I think Justin has the potential to be the best of the 4 aforementioned names! GBO!

eVOLved writes:

in response to VolGrad:

Just keep eating and pumping iron, Justin.

eating iron lol

CarlChilders writes:

Learning to eat iron is where the mental toughness comes in.

VOLliven2it writes:

Justin will be fine. We need the other socalled big 2 to step up and do some things as G. Jones and D. Moore did last year. It will be exciting to watch. GO BIG ORANGE!

NorthwestVol writes:

I suspect that as long as Hunter plans to continue his track and field efforts we'll continue to see him around the same weight. Gaining weight, even muscle mass may have a negative effect in the high jump.

FarmerVol writes:

If he can stay healthy, he will be the go to guy inside the red zone. Easy to see, can jump a mile, and is fast. Bray will have trouble missing him. And when the D figures it out, the TE will be the next easy target on an over the middle trailing pass and short run to the givehim6. This is going to be fun - finally. GBO.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

A wr like hunter can cover up QB mistakes, too! Ask Terry Bradshaw about having wrs that can make you look better!

buxavol writes:

in response to CarlChilders:

Learning to eat iron is where the mental toughness comes in.

Or would it be metal toughness??

givehim6 writes:

Love seeing the Bray to Hunter deep ball for a TD. In the 90's there was Manning to Price. What other great deep ball combo's has UT had?

Davolz11 writes:

in response to NorthwestVol:

I suspect that as long as Hunter plans to continue his track and field efforts we'll continue to see him around the same weight. Gaining weight, even muscle mass may have a negative effect in the high jump.

As a former High Jumper, I can whole heartedly agree. Justin has the ability to become a World Class High Jumper. As a Freshman in college, my coaches tried to keep me around 155 pounds.... I'm 6'3" and could clear 6'10". Once I hit 170, I was struggling to clear 6'4".

hueypilot writes:

in response to Navalorange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

It's always been amusing to me that with all those who panned Manning because until a few years ago he hadn't won a super bowl, Marino wasn't great because he hadn't won a super bowl, Montana is the greatest ever because he won multiple SB's, Brady is (now) the best along with Rotlisberger because they've won multiples SB's, that Bradshaw who has the most SB wins of any, isn't mentioned in the same breath. Kinda destroys both arguments in my view. All of them are good, the least of which as a QB was Montana, IMO. Terry could wing it and like his fellow rookie Archie Manning was a good runner as well, at least in college.

Mtnbiker writes:

Spring game approx. 201hr away....cant wait...

OwensboroVol writes:

What a kid. I can't wait to see him again this fall!!!!

MusicCityVol writes:

Justin and the recievers along with the O-Line are the strengths of the team this spring.

It's "Spring" Football Time in Tennessee
http://checkerboardchatter.blogspot.c...

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to FarmerVol:

If he can stay healthy, he will be the go to guy inside the red zone. Easy to see, can jump a mile, and is fast. Bray will have trouble missing him. And when the D figures it out, the TE will be the next easy target on an over the middle trailing pass and short run to the givehim6. This is going to be fun - finally. GBO.

Good post;The fade route to the corner of the end zone is already working!!I love throwing to the TE in the end zone but for whatever reason Chaney isn't very innovative on that..My favorite play is to line up 2 wr's on the weakside of the field; roll the QB to the weakside ;then throw to the opposite side to the TE standing alone..Works everytime on a 2nd and goal from 8 yards out.Chaney would benefit on watching some old Cutcliffe film on the proper use of using the TE inside the red zone..David made many teams look like fools scoring TD's to wide open TE'S./

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Using Hunter 15 yards and in couldn't hurt..A 3rd down possession reciever is imperative..Last year it was Gerald and Stocker..This year who knows?? Benji would work nicely; Rogers is bigger;stronger and maybe smarter than Austin given time..Iam not sure exactly what the play is called but having Hunter run a go route down the sidelines;slow and suck the DB slightly to the post and then turn on the jets could prove to be a deadly play given Brays ability!!!By the way this is officially my 1000th post..only took a little over 3 years..THANKS to all my VOL brothers for almost 4 years of pleasure..GO VOLS!!!!

new_era_vol writes:

in response to Dead_Head_Vol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

that being said, dont forget our big stud of a back Marlin Lane coming in. he is a beast! good luck to tauren and the rest, I hope they are willing to take a backseat to lane and help him learn things. GO VOLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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