Team comments on Alabama loss, public negativity
Derek Dooley talks about wide receiver Justin Hunter
On Monday, Derek Dooley made a mildly critical comment about junior receiver Justin Hunter that quickly found its way to Twitter.
Hunter, perhaps a tad annoyed, retweeted his coach's comments.
That raised eyebrows. Was he mad?
"Everybody has their own opinion," Hunter said Tuesday. "That's my coach. He sees me every day so he knows what I am doing or what I'm not doing right ... We are men, so I don't take anything personal."
After starting his junior season with promise, Hunter has hit a three-game slump that has coincided with the struggles of Tennessee's offense. When the Vols (3-4, 0-4 SEC) play at No. 17 South Carolina (6-2, 4-2) on Saturday (TV: ESPN, noon), Hunter will be trying to break out of the rut.
"Justin had a great swagger coming into the year, and we have to get that back," Dooley said Tuesday.
To most observers, the comments Dooley made about Hunter on Monday were controversial only because they were brutally honest.
Dooley said, in essence, that Hunter had yet to perform like the first-round NFL draft pick that many expect him to be. He suffered a torn ACL last season and has dropped a handful of passes at key moments in 2012.
"Justin has to understand that playing receiver isn't always clean and easy. There is a level of grit required to get open," Dooley said.
But Hunter said that assessment isn't entirely fair. The dropped passes have been so magnified that they obscure the fact that he's having, in his own words, a "pretty good" year.
"Everybody expects you to catch every pass, even the hard ones and the ones that go out of bounds," Hunter said. "I think I've been doing everything mostly right on the field but one drop is what everybody is going to look at."
The most prominent drop against Alabama came just before halftime. It would have been a nice catch — maybe even a great one — and given the Vols a chance to go into the locker room with a crucial score.
A week earlier against Mississippi State, Hunter was widely panned for short-arming a pass from quarterback Tyler Bray that should have been caught.
At the start of the season, the outlook was much rosier for Hunter. He caught 17 passes in the first two games and 30 in the first four. ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper said Hunter was the best receiver in the field and a potential top-five overall pick.
Has the last month affected Hunter's draft stock? Hunter said he's not worried about that.
"I just try to stay focused on now," he said. "I can't get my head clouded up with all of that other stuff."
He also says that the dropped passes that have been so widely discussed elsewhere haven't fazed his confidence. His quarterback helps him stay focused.
"I just clear it out of my mind, because if you think about it, you'll drop another one," he said. "I just try to focus on the next play ... I know if I drop a pass, (Bray) will come to me and say something about it. And, if he throws a bad pass, I'll go say something to him. We're pretty even with our attitudes."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.