Tennessee's Justin Hunter seeking to end pass-catching drought

Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter (11) runs the ball after a catch on a pass from quarterback Tyler Bray (8) while Mississippi State defensive back Darius Slay (9) defends at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter (11) runs the ball after a catch on a pass from quarterback Tyler Bray (8) while Mississippi State defensive back Darius Slay (9) defends at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter (11) runs the ball after a catch on a pass from quarterback Tyler Bray (8) while Mississippi State defensive back Darius Slay (9) defends at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter (11) runs the ball after a catch on a pass from quarterback Tyler Bray (8) while Mississippi State defensive back Darius Slay (9) defends at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

What has happened to Justin Hunter?

The Tennessee receiver caught 30 passes through the first four games of the season, but had only three at Georgia and two at Mississippi State.

Both defenses made a concerted efforts to crack down on long pass plays, leaving Tennessee to work on underneath routes and the running game.

"Sometimes those things happen and we don't want them to happen to such a talented football player," Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said of Hunter. "We're going to try to keep that from happening again."

Last week against Mississippi State, Tennessee turned to the run game to build drives and keep the defense off the field, which limited opportunities in the passing game.

"(Justin) wants to catch 10 balls a game," Chaney said. "(Good receivers) get frustrated when they don't catch 10 balls a game, and I want him to be that way. He just has to go out and perform every time on every play."

***

Another player Tennessee wants to get the ball to is receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who has made an impact on end-arounds, reverses and — last week — a straight handoff.

"He seems to be good when you just hand it to him, "Chaney said with a slight smile. "Maybe we should do that.

Coach Derek Dooley is on board.

"(Patterson) has a real special set of skills," Dooley said. "So we're going to keep finding ways to get him the ball. It'd be crazy if we didn't."

***

Chaney has found few flaws in Alabama's defense, but he said it would be unwise to deviate drastically from what the Vols have done successfully so far this season.

"You put a plan together and you go execute the play," he said. "Ultimately it gets down to man-on-man, can my guy block your guy and can the running backs run with aggression and secure the ball? We aren't going to reinvent the wheel. Let's go play football."

***

Dooley likely won't decide until Friday or Saturday whether he'll coach the Alabama game from the press box or the field, but he remains "probable" to watch from upstairs.

"I want to and I am going to do everything that I can to be (on the sidelines), but at the end of the day, we tell our players that they have to listen to the doctor, so I wouldn't be a good example if I didn't," he said.

***

Freshman defensive lineman Omari Phillips is not participating in practices for the Vols while he focuses on academics, Dooley said.

Phillips originally signed with Florida but was not admitted to the school. He signed with the Vols in July. The 6-foot-6, 325-pound defensive tackle from Venice, Fla., was ranked a four-star prospect by every major recruiting service.

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

© 2012 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 30

CoverOrange writes:

Tell Hunter, Patterson, Bray and Chaney, they don't have to go long on every pass play. Rogers was open twice across the middle in the first series at MSU and they never went to it again. Take what they give you.

Wouldn't be surprised if Omari never plays another down at UT.

volnbig11land writes:

Here's a thought Justin,

Extend those gator arms....

rockypop writes:

Hunter's lack of production seems to be a combination of being somewhat gun-shy and Bray's problem w/accuracy. Either way, it's a shame that the young man is experiencing a fall-off from what was expected. There's no doubt that both he and Bray are struggling against top-tier defenses, while CP seems to be holding his own and even excelling against the same.

I'm certainly no expert evaluator of NFL talent, but to my untrained eye, none of these guys seem to be in line as first round draft choices based on their performances so far this season. That could change with extraordinary performances in the last half of the season, but I don't see any NFL teams taking a chance on any of these guys in the first round.

Obviously, their collective decisions regarding declaring for the draft could and will affect Dooley's status for next year. My guess is that if all of them decide to return, it will be difficult to replace Dooley, since his system and coaches are what made them successful in the first place. And, bringing in a new regime will completely change the equation.

SEC__Headgear writes:

I would rather coach the O than the D. I think though that I could do a better job on both.

bigorangeyankees writes:

Hunter, no alligator arms and you make a nice long catch at MSU. Hunter has shown he is afraid to make catches when he is going to get hit. Patterson is not afraid, he just drops the easy catches. Hunter is a great athlete but has failed to make several catches in traffic.

sameolvolalum writes:

in response to rockypop:

Hunter's lack of production seems to be a combination of being somewhat gun-shy and Bray's problem w/accuracy. Either way, it's a shame that the young man is experiencing a fall-off from what was expected. There's no doubt that both he and Bray are struggling against top-tier defenses, while CP seems to be holding his own and even excelling against the same.

I'm certainly no expert evaluator of NFL talent, but to my untrained eye, none of these guys seem to be in line as first round draft choices based on their performances so far this season. That could change with extraordinary performances in the last half of the season, but I don't see any NFL teams taking a chance on any of these guys in the first round.

Obviously, their collective decisions regarding declaring for the draft could and will affect Dooley's status for next year. My guess is that if all of them decide to return, it will be difficult to replace Dooley, since his system and coaches are what made them successful in the first place. And, bringing in a new regime will completely change the equation.

Good post, Pop. I'm glad at least some of us still realize that the rebuilding process going on at UT is tenuous at best. There's a foundation here and Hart's probably not going to listen to these young whiners who just can't wrap their little brains around the adverse complications versus the developing potentials within the program. Dooley's got to be retained, at least through national signing day, so that we don't lose our committed athletes.

ive_got_huge_arms writes:

justin is having trouble catching the ball because his arms arent big enough

jack4444 writes:

Get the ball to CP.

Henley-Street-Bridge writes:

He's got KFC disease = Chicken to catch a ball a traffic and get hit.

Henley-Street-Bridge writes:

He's got KFC disease = Chicken to catch a ball in traffic and get hit.

atnvol#283282 writes:

Justin Hunter does not have the physique to catch in traffic and absorb hits....if he did that he would be about as healthy as Maggitt. Patterson is a better receiver overall....and he will get better the more time he is in the Vols system.

BruisedOrange writes:

Receivers have become the weak-link as college offenses have become more pro-style.

Receivers are being asked to read defenses and change their routes accordingly--and do so in synch with the QB. QBs have the advantage of seeing the D in symmetry, from the middle of the field. It's much tougher reading the D from a wide split, as evidenced in the NFL.

I think that's the reason why the most impressive hookups in college play are coming in man-to-man situations.

And if Bray is not confident that a receiver is reading what he's reading, defensive coordinators can game plan that to take any receiver effectively out of the game.

Is that what's going on with Hunter this year? I dunno. We know Patterson was running the wrong routes earlier in the season. Is that why he's been getting the ball handed to him more lately?

Not criticizing them--it's challenging to be a receiver in today's SEC without a few years' experience.

Orangepuddinskin writes:

Just catch the ball.

jobrando#216494 writes:

He will be NFL ready after the Kentucky game. He'll continue to get triple coverage.

BornTNfan writes:

It was said perfectly clear by RockyPop...Bray has accuracy problems under 20 yards and our receivers are dropping easy catches. It is not that the coaching staff is completely incompetent as many of you keep suggesting. The Defense is struggling but we knew that would happen as we don't have all the right players to run this defense, but they will come. We are constantly playing 10 yards off of thier receivers (which drives me nuts) because our guys are slower and afraid of getting burned. It is the actions of those on the field that keep ending with the results we are seeing...a Loss. None the less, I am encouraged with the direction that this team is going, and though I hate to loose as well, I really look forward to watching my VOLS play every Saturday. I will support and defend the Orange and White, no matter what. GO VOLS!

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Tell Hunter, Patterson, Bray and Chaney, they don't have to go long on every pass play. Rogers was open twice across the middle in the first series at MSU and they never went to it again. Take what they give you.

Wouldn't be surprised if Omari never plays another down at UT.

Agree..Keep Rogers routes near or inside the hash marks and cut this kid loose..We'll get first downs and take pressure of Hunter and CP

smokysbark writes:

in response to BruisedOrange:

Receivers have become the weak-link as college offenses have become more pro-style.

Receivers are being asked to read defenses and change their routes accordingly--and do so in synch with the QB. QBs have the advantage of seeing the D in symmetry, from the middle of the field. It's much tougher reading the D from a wide split, as evidenced in the NFL.

I think that's the reason why the most impressive hookups in college play are coming in man-to-man situations.

And if Bray is not confident that a receiver is reading what he's reading, defensive coordinators can game plan that to take any receiver effectively out of the game.

Is that what's going on with Hunter this year? I dunno. We know Patterson was running the wrong routes earlier in the season. Is that why he's been getting the ball handed to him more lately?

Not criticizing them--it's challenging to be a receiver in today's SEC without a few years' experience.

Thank you! I've said this a hundred times and get bashed every time I mention it. It can't only be the defense fooling the offense into thinking they are in a certain coverage only to roll into another look after the snap. The QB/receivers can do this also. I don't know if one is reading one thing and Bray is reading another or if they just don't check out of the planned route and let come what may. If the DB is playing man tight to the line of scrimmage there is no way that any DB can match Hunter's speed down the field but if you have a 10 yard cushion, why not check out of that fade, throw an 8 yard hitch and see if he can make him miss.

I'll say this in agreement with you as well ... There have been a bunch of slant routes ran by Hunter where he beat EVERYONE and the ball just wasn't catchable. I think Bray still isn't used to Hunter's speed as he comes out of his cut because the ball is always behind him. That isn't Hunter's fault and at least two of those would have been TD's because the field in front of him was wide open.

As coaches, they have to know that teams game plan for Hunter for as the #1 receiver. That means that the safety is going to roll over to his side so they can close the top of that route. Maybe moving Hunter around like they do CP would help ... put him in the slot more often. That is if he understands the route combinations at that position.

Man there is a lot of talent at receiver and QB ... I hope they figure it out. Go Vols!

hikerdude writes:

It looks like to me that Hunter is playing not to get hurt. He needs to understand that he won't be going pro unless he can catch the ball.

HooRay_Vol writes:

Once Omari Phillips gets cleared to play, Plug him in beside McCullers and go back the the 4-3 with Maggitt and Smith at DE, A.J at MLB, Lathers and Sapp OLB.

Oh, the days of Henderson and Haynesworth....

johnlg00 writes:

in response to ive_got_huge_arms:

justin is having trouble catching the ball because his arms arent big enough

Justin has arms as long as Plasticman's; he just doesn't extend them the way he should to SNATCH that ball. If it's mental, as it may well be, he needs to fix it quick, or he's going to spend the rest of his life as one of those "whatever happened to" stories.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Agree..Keep Rogers routes near or inside the hash marks and cut this kid loose..We'll get first downs and take pressure of Hunter and CP

Agree completely that Rogers has been the most pleasant surprise in the passing game this year. Like many, I was disappointed in the way he caught the ball before this year, but now he seems to be running good routes, catching most of what has been thrown to him, and hanging on after the big hits. Now if Hunter can somehow get it back and if Patterson gets a few more balls thrown his way, the passing game should start to look more we all thought it would in the preseason.

johnlg00 writes:

PS: I would also help if Rivera got a few more looks. If all the DBs are chasing our WRs down the field, it seems there are BOUND to be a few more creases Rivera could exploit. Haven't heard much lately about how much more the Vols were going to use the TE's this year.

OrangePride writes:

Well......when teams double cover Hunter, getting open is more an issue. Also, we are running the ball more and that cuts the opportunities down. Beyond that...........CATCH THE DANG BALL! Been a couple of critical drops that have hurt. And if you want Hunter to be open more often, how about this idea? Throw to Rogers, CP, and Riviera more often. Tight end, which had been a real strength, has become less than an after-thought lately. But there are first downs to be had if we use our weapons!

PUL4VOLS writes:

A simple word for Hunter CONCENTRATE ON THE BALL, not on the defender nor where you plan to run. Catch it and you will have oppportunities for many big plays. Drop it and we have all the flap. It is not easy, I have been told, to come back from an injury like his. But I think we all agree his potential is more than he has been doing at least in the past two games. Now and next Sat. especially are two times it would be wonderful if he stepped it up in a big big way. GO BIG ORANGE!

brokendownoldvol writes:

Bad week to finally decide to start playing.

govolsn3 writes:

Anyone else noticed all the "BACKWARDS" runninng that Hunter has been doing. Looks to me like he is avoiding the hits. I think he has the NFL on his mind and trying to avoid the big hit. I guess that is ok but I say give it your all for TENNESSEE. GO VOLS>>>VFL

KINGKONG writes:

Yaw sound like a bunch of b------!Hunter isnt fully recovered from knee injury.He doesnt have that extra gear he had last year.It takes 2 years to recover from that injury.Bray and Hunter timing has been horrible.Drop passes over thrown balls has been an issue

KINGKONG writes:

I hate to bring this up but Darick was the possesion reciver he moved the chains.Hunter is deep threat.CP is a game changer I knew that Darick dismissal would hurt us.This is a typical 8-4 team.They will get it together GO VOLS. vfl vfl vfl !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

gatorhator4eva writes:

hunter had a torn acl a little more then a year ago. have u ever torn your acl? lets just say it sucks. he looks like he is worried about getting injured. i would be too. i have a torn acl and it takes years to get back to normal.

JonGrudensAgent writes:

Give it a rest with the "afraid to catch in traffic" comments.

Hunter isn't the first wide receiver to lack some explosiveness off of a knee injury or suffer at the hands of an inconsistent quarterback and offensive coordinator.

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