Vols OK with feeding Hunter, no matter the coverage

Baggett: Sophomore is maturing fast

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel
Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter cruises to the end zone on an 81-yard pass from quarterback Tyler Bray during the Vols' 42-16 home win over Montana on Saturday.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2011

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter cruises to the end zone on an 81-yard pass from quarterback Tyler Bray during the Vols' 42-16 home win over Montana on Saturday.

Vols coach Derek Dooley talks about DB Rod Wilks and WR Justin Hunter

There's a point where the mind games can become counterproductive.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley draws the line when it pertains to over-thinking wide receiver Justin Hunter's role in the UT offense.

Hunter caught six of the 17 passes Tyler Bray completed last week against Montana. He was targeted a number of other times and his 146 receiving yards, 81 of which came on a long catch-and-run touchdown, made up nearly half of Bray's 293 passing yards.

Had the game been close for all four quarters, Hunter could have flirted with team records.

With no shortage of Hunter highlights to analyze, it's expected that Cincinnati will devote plenty of attention to the sophomore at Neyland Stadium on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 3:30 p.m.). For some coaches, that might prompt the spawning of a backup plan that involves other members of the offense to expose the areas where defensive resources are limited.

Dooley, though, doesn't see the need to overcomplicate things. Hunter might just be that good.

"What I don't want to do is say 'Hey, we don't want to show a tendency that we're throwing to Justin Hunter' and then throw it to these other guys and they make 5 yards," Dooley said. "I'd rather just feed it to the guy as long as he can catch it.

"It's kind of my backyard in me. 'That guy's good, throw it to him.' Well, they got two on him. 'Well, give it a shot anyway.' If they stop it, then we'll think about something else."

When Hunter arrived at UT as a freshman, he immediately took on the nickname "Bones" because he was easily the leanest player on the team. One year later, Hunter can still afford to go back for seconds and thirds at dinner, but he's somewhere between 10 to 15 pounds heavier than when he caught 16 passes for 457 yards and seven touchdowns in 2010.

"I think I'm more powerful than I (was) last year, because of the lifting and gaining weight," Hunter said, who recently admitted that he ate cookies during last week's lightning delay. "It's not hurting me at all. I'm still fast in moving down the field and keeping my vertical speed and stuff.

"I keep telling people I'm going to trick them one time. I'm going to go up to them like I'm going to juke them, and I'm going to end up running them over."

Hunter doesn't have the menacing presence that 215-pound sophomore Da'Rick Rogers brings across the middle, and he probably never will. But Hunter's role in the UT offense has expanded at the same rate as his waist line.

As was displayed when he raced across the middle to catch a 15-yard slant from Bray before turning it into an 81-yard touchdown, he's not just "the deep guy" anymore.

"His capacity is unlimited," wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. "I hate to get too excited about young guys too early but he's a guy that really excites me. I think he can handle a lot, I really do.

"I'm excited about the fact that we can give him more. We move him in the slot, we put him outside, we put him in the one-back, one-receiver set. He can do a lot of things. I think he can handle it."

Hunter is the "X" receiver, which is "mostly stationary" before the snap, Baggett said. The "Z" receiver, which is where Rogers lines up, is the one who is typically moving all over the place before the snap.

But Hunter, in an attempt to dissuade defenses from "keying on him," won't always be standing still, Baggett said. He's more than just the "X."

"Justin is maturing at a fast pace," Baggett said. "I can say that his improvement from last year, at the end of last year to the present, has been tremendous. If he continues to get better and improve, I think that the sky is the limit for him.

"The good thing about him is he listens and he studies the game and he's going to get better. It's exciting for me."

Though Dooley made light of the hypothetical situation where defenses double- or triple-team Hunter, UT's third and fourth options behind Hunter and Rogers will need to do more than they did against Montana. Zach Rogers caught one pass and freshmen Vincent Dallas and DeAnthony Arnett were barely targeted while Bray devoted most of his attention to the sophomore duo.

Just like it did for Hunter and Rogers to receive opportunities behind Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore last season, it's going to take time before UT truly has a slew of reliable backup options behind its top targets.

"I'd like to see them play more but they're in the same situation that Da'Rick and Justin were in a year ago," Baggett said. "Slowly brought them along and got their feet wet. Then at the end of the year they had more playing time."

For now, Dooley's willing to take his chances with Hunter, no matter how much he's blanketed by defenders.

"We're going to keep trying to feature him as long as he keeps giving us production back," Dooley said. "He's got a chance to be a really good one."

Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble

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Comments » 24

trubleoj#657755 writes:

Throw the ball DOWN the field!

tdvol1989 writes:

Of course, I am a fan of Hunter...BUT!!! Let's not get ahead of ourselves. If the sky is the limit, push him toward that limit. Let him watch video of guys like Alshon Jeffrey catching the ball WITH HIS HANDS and tell him that guy is the bell cow. Maybe he will get upset enough to get really intense. It was printed here that Da'Rick dropped one, but Justin dropped what would have been a really nice 3rd down conversion...that hit him in the hands. Not criticizing, but if we want him to be great, then let's push him.

Or better yet, he can watch Alvin Harper, who was also a skinny high jumper, catch the ball with HIS HANDS!!! Of course, my favorite Harper catch was actually with his back arm - that means a 1 armed catch - late in a game at Auburn...that was unfortunately wasted by my angriest Tennessee moment when Greg Burke shanked a 31yd (ish) field goal leaving us in a Pat Dye Tie (punched a hole in a door).

Back to Alvin, he made it look smooth. I remember watching him in pickup games at the HPER Building making some really nice dunks. Anyway, that should be Justin's role model.

PUL4VOLS writes:

Talk, talk, talk, we will still need to run the ball. If throwing to Hunter sets that up, let's do that. But what all else we do, BEAT THE BEARCATS!

Mansonlamps writes:

in response to PUL4VOLS:

Talk, talk, talk, we will still need to run the ball. If throwing to Hunter sets that up, let's do that. But what all else we do, BEAT THE BEARCATS!

Better get used to the fact that we won't be a run first team, and may not even be a good running team at all. We need a better back than Poole for us to thrive on the ground in Chaney's system.

HtownVol writes:

I think with the right play calls Hunter can dominate any game. He is a threat to do anything. He showed the speed and ability to go over the middle with the slant play last week and he is one of the best deep ball WRs in the country and that frees up the comeback routes.
Once UT has a 3rd WR that taks charge of that role the UT Offense will be even more explosive.

kcbigorngX writes:

Charlie Baggett knows a player when he sees one.

Coaching the likes of Chris Carter, Randy Moss, Derrick Mason, Antonio Freeman, Andre Rison, and a half dozen other Pro Bowlers proves that.

When Mr. Hunter gains more experience and develops a nasty attitude he will dominate SEC secondaries.

UTByrd writes:

I'm as excited as Coach Bagget.

UTByrd writes:

One point is missing in this story, as well as the comments. It takes a QB to deliver the ball.

We've got a QB that can put it on the money more often than not.
Talk used to be about UT's lack of 20+ yard pass plays. How many plays has Tyler had that went for more than 40, 50, 60, 70, and, as of the last game, 80 in 6 and 1/2 games.
Answer: Plenty.

On the other hand, it takes special players to do what Justin and Da'Rick do.
Go VOLS!!!!!

UTByrd writes:

While I'm at it, I might as well tell ya'll about my experience at Neyland last Saturday.
We got to the stadium and couldn't get in because of the lightning/thunderstorm, got wet (heckuva wet t-shirt contest), met some good people and finally got to our seats.
I had on an American flag t-shirt and, as we approached our seats, a young fella sitting 3 rows back looks at me and says, "God bless America!". To which I said, "And then some!".
Before I go any further, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself in Knoxville.
Anyway, midway through the 1st quarter, this dude starts making loud comments to his buddies and can't help but use the f-word. Needless to say, he was pretty tore up.
I look around and I see older people and children, as well as a few people wondering what to do.
So, I turned around (nobody for 2 rows between us) and politely asked him to please watch his words as there were children and old folks around. He looked at me, apologized, and we did a fist bump and everything was good.

Always kill them with kindness before you baffle them with your b@llsh@t.

Go VOLS!!!!!

tree_em_smokey writes:

in response to tdvol1989:

Of course, I am a fan of Hunter...BUT!!! Let's not get ahead of ourselves. If the sky is the limit, push him toward that limit. Let him watch video of guys like Alshon Jeffrey catching the ball WITH HIS HANDS and tell him that guy is the bell cow. Maybe he will get upset enough to get really intense. It was printed here that Da'Rick dropped one, but Justin dropped what would have been a really nice 3rd down conversion...that hit him in the hands. Not criticizing, but if we want him to be great, then let's push him.

Or better yet, he can watch Alvin Harper, who was also a skinny high jumper, catch the ball with HIS HANDS!!! Of course, my favorite Harper catch was actually with his back arm - that means a 1 armed catch - late in a game at Auburn...that was unfortunately wasted by my angriest Tennessee moment when Greg Burke shanked a 31yd (ish) field goal leaving us in a Pat Dye Tie (punched a hole in a door).

Back to Alvin, he made it look smooth. I remember watching him in pickup games at the HPER Building making some really nice dunks. Anyway, that should be Justin's role model.

I don't understand why you think the coaching staff should have to get Hunter angry for him to play great when they are praising him in this article....They said he does great, watches film and listens to Baggett. What is the catch it with HIS HANDS thing about?

TitanandVolfan4life writes:

Hunter will keep pushing Rogers too.

When Rogers also breaks out then WATCH OUT because our Vols will have 1 of the best passing games in the country.

I believe that Rogers has the skills and potential to also be 1 of the best WR's in the country after he learns more and understand reading the D better so when he and another of our WR's get it all together along with Hunter and a good TE then we'll be hard to stop and our running game will also get much better.

VFL...GO BIG ORANGE!!!

tennvolsman19651965 writes:

in response to Mansonlamps:

Better get used to the fact that we won't be a run first team, and may not even be a good running team at all. We need a better back than Poole for us to thrive on the ground in Chaney's system.

I wouldnt say that we may not even be a good running team. If you watched the game last Saturday, you would have noticed that our O-line wasnt opening holes, nor were they protecting Bray very well. You cant blame Poole for designed runs that dont work out because the hole that was supposed to be there, wasnt there! Montana stacked the line and it was 8 on five or 7 on five the whole game. We were asking our offensive line to do a lot. Expect a better running game against Cincy. If they stack the line, Hunter, Rogers and Bray will pick them apart.

MtJ_Orange writes:

I wonder if Coach Dooley is using reverse psychology. Go ahead and double team Hunter then we will really see what our run game can do. I hope the defense can make some good open field tackles. That's my main concern in the game saturday. Haven't heard much talk about Vereen and I thought he was around the ball most plays. Time to make a statement! GBO!

NOthgif writes:

Ofcourse you feed the ball to JH. The guy can ball. Then, unfortunately for Cincy, when they double or triple JH, you go to Rogers (the good one). Judas Priest man, your Vols are going to hurt some ppl next year. However, I digress and will continue to Fight ON!

NOthgif writes:

in response to smoky_moUnTain_sasqUaTch:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Says the guy who probably was hoarse after cheering for Alvin as he blew away the competition when he played at Tennessee. Or are you a walk on Vol fan? Either way, Fight ON!

nwcs writes:

"that was unfortunately wasted by my angriest Tennessee moment when Greg Burke shanked a 31yd (ish) field goal leaving us in a Pat Dye Tie (punched a hole in a door)."

I was at that game. And from that came the phrase I uttered for years to opposing teams, "BURKE THAT KICK!"

rbhobbs73#226545 writes:

in response to nwcs:

"that was unfortunately wasted by my angriest Tennessee moment when Greg Burke shanked a 31yd (ish) field goal leaving us in a Pat Dye Tie (punched a hole in a door)."

I was at that game. And from that came the phrase I uttered for years to opposing teams, "BURKE THAT KICK!"

Yep, I was mad that night too...but not at Burke.

I was mad a Johnny Majors...who had a 26-9 lead early in the 4th quarter and promptly ran off tackle or up the middle EVERY PLAY for 3 consecutive 4th quarter possessions trying to protect the lead and run clock.

Of course we were 3 and out each time, punted and Auburn scored 3 times to tie the game at 26.

Johnny then opened up the passing game again and Kelly, Pickens and Harper drove down the field (highlighted by Harper's great catch) before Burke missed the chip shot field goal.

It should have never come to that.

Game was over but Johnny gave Auburn life by reeling in the offense with 13:00 to go.

Sigh....

BobbyGraham writes:

i disagree with this philosophy. i think we should use the Randy Sanders philosophy and only take what the defense is giving us. We should never try to dictate play with our strengths. Just kidding of course but i used to despise when Sanders would say we are going to take what the defense gives us.

Volunatic writes:

in response to tree_em_smokey:

I don't understand why you think the coaching staff should have to get Hunter angry for him to play great when they are praising him in this article....They said he does great, watches film and listens to Baggett. What is the catch it with HIS HANDS thing about?

TDVol was drinking on Saturday and thought Justin was catching the ball in his teeth.

Volunatic writes:

in response to BobbyGraham:

i disagree with this philosophy. i think we should use the Randy Sanders philosophy and only take what the defense is giving us. We should never try to dictate play with our strengths. Just kidding of course but i used to despise when Sanders would say we are going to take what the defense gives us.

Randy Sanders was/is a really good position coach, but was over his head as OC at Tennessee.

IndyVolFan writes:

in response to rbhobbs73#226545:

Yep, I was mad that night too...but not at Burke.

I was mad a Johnny Majors...who had a 26-9 lead early in the 4th quarter and promptly ran off tackle or up the middle EVERY PLAY for 3 consecutive 4th quarter possessions trying to protect the lead and run clock.

Of course we were 3 and out each time, punted and Auburn scored 3 times to tie the game at 26.

Johnny then opened up the passing game again and Kelly, Pickens and Harper drove down the field (highlighted by Harper's great catch) before Burke missed the chip shot field goal.

It should have never come to that.

Game was over but Johnny gave Auburn life by reeling in the offense with 13:00 to go.

Sigh....

This was my biggest beef with Johnny too. I remember I left the Army game early one year thinking it was all over, only to have a car race by with some idiot screaming "Army wins!" over and over. He was the master of the prevent defense which only prevented UT from winning.

VolinCalif writes:

in response to tennvolsman19651965:

I wouldnt say that we may not even be a good running team. If you watched the game last Saturday, you would have noticed that our O-line wasnt opening holes, nor were they protecting Bray very well. You cant blame Poole for designed runs that dont work out because the hole that was supposed to be there, wasnt there! Montana stacked the line and it was 8 on five or 7 on five the whole game. We were asking our offensive line to do a lot. Expect a better running game against Cincy. If they stack the line, Hunter, Rogers and Bray will pick them apart.

You have it right Tenn. I for one think that we have a good running game on hold.I think that UT made those up the middle calls against a stacked defense to improve our line. We sure didn't need to rack up running yards. We needed to get the OL some experience.

Digital5000 writes:

in response to MtJ_Orange:

I wonder if Coach Dooley is using reverse psychology. Go ahead and double team Hunter then we will really see what our run game can do. I hope the defense can make some good open field tackles. That's my main concern in the game saturday. Haven't heard much talk about Vereen and I thought he was around the ball most plays. Time to make a statement! GBO!

It wouldn't surprise me if this is what Dooley is doing. Dooley is a lawyer, which means hes smart like a computer. After all he does wear great looking orange pants. I think that pretty much say enough for me.

-Enjoy Yoself

DiegoVol writes:

in response to tennvolsman19651965:

I wouldnt say that we may not even be a good running team. If you watched the game last Saturday, you would have noticed that our O-line wasnt opening holes, nor were they protecting Bray very well. You cant blame Poole for designed runs that dont work out because the hole that was supposed to be there, wasnt there! Montana stacked the line and it was 8 on five or 7 on five the whole game. We were asking our offensive line to do a lot. Expect a better running game against Cincy. If they stack the line, Hunter, Rogers and Bray will pick them apart.

Agreed... I for one have always been a fan of the set up your run with the passing game. If we keep burning people in the passing game you will start to see more 3 to 4 man fronts, Then our running game will start to take over.

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