DeAnthony Arnett can already get out on the stage and do a little improv.
With a play breaking down and his quarterback looking for help in the back of the end zone, the Tennessee freshman proved that he can freelance as he worked his way into open space and gave Tyler Bray somewhere to throw the football.
But with or without a script, Arnett left out one important bit of acting the veterans and his coaches were quick to point out after the second touchdown of his career was sent to video review. Arnett didn't react like somebody who was certain he'd just made a catch, so if there's any doubt about a similar play as the Vols take on Georgia at Neyland Stadium on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.), it's safe to assume he'll be more willing to ham it up for the officials.
"Oh yeah, they definitely all told me about it," Arnett said Tuesday during his first interview since joining the program. "As soon as I came to the sideline, they were telling me I had to at least jump in the air and act like I caught the ball. (Wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett) said I just looked like, 'Dang, I dropped the ball.' He said to act like you caught the ball, even if you did drop it.
"I know it hit the ground a little bit, but I think I got under it enough that it was a touchdown."
The replays didn't show enough to contradict Arnett last weekend as the Vols (3-1, 0-1 SEC) routed Buffalo, giving him his second scoring grab of the game and likely solidifying his role as a viable target in UT's post-Justin Hunter offense.
The Vols had been gradually incorporating the former four-star recruit into the offense early in the season, a similar approach to what they did a year ago as they eased Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers into the mix as each became more comfortable with the game and more familiar with the playbook. But a season-ending knee injury for Hunter forced UT to fast-track Arnett into the rotation, and heading into a critical meeting with the Bulldogs (3-2, 2-1 SEC), he's responded with 11 catches, 86 yards and those two touchdowns — all of that coming over the past two games.
And while he showed some veteran savvy on the first trip to the end zone of his career, taking an out route and making a sharp cut up the sideline and diving inside the pylon, the second offered a reminder that there are some tricks of the trade he's still learning.
"I told him that," Baggett said. "When he came off, I said, 'No matter what happens, when you get up, hold the ball up and act like you caught it.' I guess he'll learn that over time.
"I show it to him all the time on film. Sometimes those things happen, and you know, the ref doesn't always get a good view of it. He said he thought he caught it but there was a possibility that the tip hit the ground. He caught it — but he's got to act like it more."
Based on the final verdict, Arnett didn't need to sell anything to the officials to put points on the board. He's also not having to fake his way through his other responsibilities as a receiver, either.
When it comes to impressive speed, a shifty, elusive running style and a soft, steady pair of hands, there's no replacement for an authentic performance. And since a spot in the cast at receiver unexpectedly opened up, the Vols need it from Arnett sooner than anticipated.
"I just know I'm going to have to step up more," Arnett said. "I don't want to be treated like a freshman anymore, and I tell the coaches that all the time.
"They said they're not going to treat me like a freshman, and they expect me to step my level of play up."