Young receivers in lead role for Vols

For Justin Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers 'it's time to step up'

Tennessee wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers (21) runs the ball during a kickoff return drill during the Vols' practice on campus Tuesday, March 22, 2011.

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers (21) runs the ball during a kickoff return drill during the Vols' practice on campus Tuesday, March 22, 2011.

Justin Hunter on leadership

Just a couple months ago, Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers were complementary pieces.

Granted, those pieces were exciting, athletically gifted and already delivering big plays - though they certainly weren't Tennessee's main focus as true freshmen.

But with the three top pass-catchers having graduated and the UT roster not exactly bursting with targets, the rising sophomores have suddenly become the old hands through just two practices this spring.

"I think it's a big change since the big seniors left," Hunter said after Wednesday's workout. "But I think me and Da'Rick and the other young receivers are coming along really good. It's time to step up as a young group of receivers. Coach ( Derek Dooley) depends on us to do that.

"We're the teachers now instead of the students."

The early experience the tandem picked up a year ago certainly has given them some knowledge to pass on to early-enrollee Vincent Dallas and a handful of other receivers yet to see significant action, but Hunter and Rogers also have plenty of learning to do themselves.

Hunter loaded up the highlight reel with seven touchdowns, often in leaping, dramatic fashion. And Rogers used his combination of speed and power as a dangerous runner on the end-around while also chipping in two more scoring grabs for the Vols. But Dooley rarely seemed impressed with the route-running of either player a year ago, and the ways the Vols could use Hunter and Rogers in the offense was limited because of it.

Now they're faced with not only making their own strides, but also providing an example of how others should be doing it as well.

"You know, it's been tough, but we're getting used to it," Rogers said. "We're going out there and having to study all the information and know it and have to know other positions to help other freshmen receivers to let them know - really we have to take the exact same role that (Denarius Moore) and (Gerald Jones) had when they helped us out.

"I mean, it's all happened early for us. It happened since camp last year, and they made us step up in training camp. It's really just the same thing repeating over again."

Repetition is a good thing for Hunter and Rogers though, especially as they build their repertoire with an emphasis on short routes, breaking quickly off the ball and cleaning up their technique.

The Vols are obviously going to need more than a combined 27 catches and 582 yards as they move on without Jones, Moore and tight end Luke Stocker. And while Hunter and Rogers still have ample time before they have to top those numbers, the early returns have already been positive.

"We need them to grow up in a hurry, we need them to be able to perform when things don't go their way early or when things aren't nice and neat," Dooley said. "When you're young, generally when things are going good, you roll pretty good. But when things get a little edgy, defenders out there holding you, grabbing you, not getting balls, you've got to learn how to stay with it and play out of it. That will take a long time.

"But we're putting everything on them, and those guys are doing really well right now. Each day there's more and more and more and more, so we're not really limiting Tyler (Bray) and Da'Rick and Justin. . . . This spring is going to be for really trying to put as much as we can on them to see how they respond."

And in the process, it will add to the lesson plan the sophomores can put together for their even younger teammates in the fall.

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 » 21

teedub writes:

I'm excited about this young corps. Here's hoping for a return to the Receiver U days!!

ETownVol writes:

These two receivers will do great things at UT in the coming years. Looking forward to Sept. and putting the basketball fiasco in the rear view. Go Vols!!!!

And... btw... first for whatever that's worth. :)

ETownVol writes:

or second.... lol

tree_em_smokey writes:

I'm excited about this FB team I think they will impress...and so does Rivals- http://collegefootball.rivals.com/con...

CroKev writes:

I just can't seem to grasp what is so difficult in running routes. I know you have CB's coming up to jam and hold you but just run the darn route...

VOLliven2it writes:

This year should be exciting with QB shored up and two receivers who can do the job although they have work to do. Also add an offensive line with more experience. That will make a difference in the running game which we need more of and for pass protection. I hope the defense can step up and play team d, really learning how to tackle people. Getting really excited about VOL football as it nears us.

JK4Vols writes:

I hear there's a walk on from Ensworth, Jacob Carter that's very good across the middle...can't wait.

UsoCRAZY writes:

Sounds like coach has a solid plan for improvment. Keep it up. GO VOLS.

Docrok writes:

in response to TheMemphisSlim:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I would agree with that last year but I believe this year Dooley is attempting to add size and strength on both sides of the ball to solve that problem. If you simply look at the size of the players he has increased the size of almost every position and the impression he gives is he has increased the strength and speed also. I am very excited to see this team play. I am ready for the Orange and White game, and also the start of the season.

VolBall18 writes:

we have to remember that this is Dooley's real first season. the team is getting more use to the system and the players are getting much more confident. Bray shows great promise and hunter is unreal at not only snatching the ball, but knowing what to do after the catch. we need someone like janzen jackson to really step up on D this year.

richvol writes:

in response to CroKev:

I just can't seem to grasp what is so difficult in running routes. I know you have CB's coming up to jam and hold you but just run the darn route...

Yeah,me too...Spurrier tore everyone up in the 90's with good receivers that ran three or four basic routes. That's it. Timing was paramount and if your OL gave the QB a little extra time then the QB could find the receiver that had been bumped off his route.

kazoo writes:

Crisp route running and knowing the plays: those are the keys for hunter and rogers. Young receivers tend not to run routes properly, timing is off, etc.: We need these guys to get it together this year. A LOT of raw athletic talent, but there is more to playing WR than that...

lahvolman2 writes:

I think Dooley is going to try and field the biggest, fastest, meanest football players he possibly can... I personally look for a lot personal foul calls early on against lesser opponents in order to set a pressident and when we start playing upper tier he'll reign them in.... just sayin'... I think slobber knocker football is in our future.....

VOLS151 writes:

Im feeling pretty good about this upcoming season. I think Dooley is the right guy for the job and we are on our way back to being relevant in the SEC. GO VOLS!

FarmerVol writes:

in response to TheMemphisSlim:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

With 3 new LBs coming in, all over 6'1" and 220 lbs, we are instantly improved in D over last year. Coverage over the middle will be 1000% better with more size and speed at MLB.

FarmerVol writes:

in response to CroKev:

I just can't seem to grasp what is so difficult in running routes. I know you have CB's coming up to jam and hold you but just run the darn route...

Its easy if you have 5 seconds to do it. Nobody gets 5 seconds, so you have to outsmart the DB or be bigger and a lot faster. Last year, first 5 games we rarely threw to a secondary receiver because we got sacked before we had the chance. Blame that on the OC calling the plays. We had one receiver routes and as soon as the opposition caught on, we had trouble.

VolGrad writes:

in response to FormerMarine:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

LOL.... I'll second that one.

GBO!

dandyseniors#546965 writes:

in response to VOLS151:

Im feeling pretty good about this upcoming season. I think Dooley is the right guy for the job and we are on our way back to being relevant in the SEC. GO VOLS!

Agree!!!

I_BLEED_ORANGE writes:

Exciting group of recievers, especially with Dallas this spring and DeAnthony Arnett this fall.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

Stay patient Big Orange Fans! These guys are still green (although a lighter shade now) and will have to PROVE that they are up to SEC play for 4 quarters! I want them to win them all, but let's keep it real! It's a little early to be talking championship, especially in this league! I DO like the way things seem to be progressing though! I'm suffering from football withdrawal!

givehim6 writes:

in response to BigVolFaninSC:

Stay patient Big Orange Fans! These guys are still green (although a lighter shade now) and will have to PROVE that they are up to SEC play for 4 quarters! I want them to win them all, but let's keep it real! It's a little early to be talking championship, especially in this league! I DO like the way things seem to be progressing though! I'm suffering from football withdrawal!

Yes BigVol playing all 4 quarters I think should be goal for the Vols this year in most of there vs top 10 games they lost last year the Vol would eather start off slow and play catch up in the sec half or play on fire in the first half then run out off gas.

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