Tennessee still looking for 'playmakers' on offense

Injuries at receiver an issue for Vols

University of Tennessee wide receiver Devrin Young waits for the ball while warming up with drills before a scrimmage at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, April 6, 2013 in Knoxville. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

University of Tennessee wide receiver Devrin Young waits for the ball while warming up with drills before a scrimmage at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, April 6, 2013 in Knoxville. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

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Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian has gone into each of the last two scrimmages with a clear goal: Find “playmakers” for a fledgling offense.

After Thursday’s practice, the answer seemed obvious to anyone who had just watched the string of dropped passes and fumbled transitions, or seen the growing injury list, or noticed the absence of a top running back.

No, this team hasn’t found its playmakers and it might be a long wait for one to emerge.

“We need go-to playmakers — more than one guy,” Bajakian said Thursday. “We need guys that we can dial up when the game is on the line in a critical situation.”

Consistency, Bajakian said, is the key. Coaches have seen occasional flashes of potential from their skill position players, but the positives have been tempered by plenty of mistakes.

“It’s a process with all of our guys,” Bajakian said. “I’m still waiting for someone to take the reins and be that consistent playmaker.”

On Thursday, the number of potential candidates were dwindling.

Running back Marlin Lane, who is fighting Rajion Neal to be the Vols’ first-string running back, missed practice for undisclosed reasons. Head coach Butch Jones does not meet with reporters on Thursdays. His assistants seemed uncertain when Lane would return. Last week, Jones said Lane was absent to deal with an illness in his family.

Receivers coach Zach Azzanni said he is now working with only four scholarship receivers, including Devrin Young, who moved from running back this spring. Vincent Dallas and Jacob Carter, the two most experienced returning players, are on the shelf with injuries. So is freshman Paul Harris, who tweaked a hamstring in Saturday’s scrimmage. Jason Croom suffered the same injury on Thursday.

As it seems unlikely the playmaker question will be resolved this spring, who might the Vols be counting to step up between now and the opener?

Croom could be one of the top candidates. He played three games in 2012 before suffering an injury. He won back his lost year of eligibility with a medical hardship waiver and the new coaching staff scrapped the idea of moving him to tight end.

Even so, at 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds, his success relies more on size and good hands than blazing speed.

“For Jason, it’s just a matter of playing with an effort level that we want, playing with the tempo we want, and then when the ball comes your way, he has to use his size and physicality to his advantage,” Bajakian said.

Croom has gotten the message. He wrote “playmaker” on his wristbands this week and — until his hamstring injury — reeled in a few nice catches Thursday.

“We’re trying to have our team have confidence in our receivers,” Croom said.

Next in line after Croom? Even with an offense loaded with skill position stars last year, coaches found a way to work Alton “Pig” Howard into the action in his true freshman season. A slot receiver, Howard is about nine inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than Croom. He caught 13 passes in 2012, which practically makes him a veteran on this squad. Jones said Howard is a work in progress who needs to grow “physically and mentally.”

“A lot of us have to pick it up and be ready to roll,” Howard said.

Young is even smaller than Howard. His strength lies in his open-field quickness and ability to outrun defenders when he gets free. But he’s a small target and has to improve his pass-catching. Young is in his third year in the program, but only his second month at the new position.

With no star players and few with any experience at the position, Azzanni said he’s the one filling the roles normally handled by veterans.

“I don’t have a leader right now. I’m the leader. I’m the captain,” he said. “We just don’t have a guy that has experience that’s stepped up, and the guys that do have a little experience aren’t playing because they’re hurt. It’s been tough.”

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

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Comments » 32

papavol writes:

This lack of experience on offense scares me big time.. I really don't know what else to say. Hopefully one or two of these guys can step up and at least, be consistent.

td writes:

The cavalry may be on the way! As of 9:40 EDT April 11, 2013, Rivals.com ranks Tennessee the #4 Recruiting Class of 2014 -- only behind Texas, A&M, and florida!!! Granted it's a long road to next February, but if you don't like this rarefied air, get off the 'Top.' That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it!

vol1994 writes:

Going to be long yr, but the 2014 recruiting class will be the class that brings ut back to success imo. We will have to wait until 2016 imo to compete for East, if Butch holds on and builds this class.

tovolny writes:

When the running backs and big linemen start gasping for breath and sweating up to a full lather in the hot August sun, the team will evolve and the toughness will be manifested as those with heart and determination will surpass those with advertised talent and no guts. Those that are trying to just survive the practice will do nothing more than regress--but those with the Tennessee Spirit that will actually be striving to move up a notch and believe deep in their tight loins and firm abs that competing to achieve victories is of utmost importance line up ahead of the rest. Davids can defeat Goliaths
and turtles can win races against rabbits. Champions become champions by beating other champions. When Goliths begin thinking like Davids along with rabbits staying focused on the tasks at hand, an ex-champion yields to the new champion. It is all about heart, focus, and preparation. Remember this: those that "SUCCUMB" to drugs, hugs, and thugs only party with a select few for a short time; and those that “OVERCOME” temptations, sensations, and offbeat recreations emerge into win columns, lists of the honored, and noted leaders walking with heads held high among all of the world. HEY, you fellows wearing the orange jerseys, WHAT”S IT GONNA BE...YOU TELL ME...CAN YOU HANDLE THE BIG TIME...?...?...?...Think about what you will be doing 4 or 5 years from now. This is the best focus. Think not so much about what you are going to do tonight. Your future is up to YOU, the guy wearing your nose. WHAT'S IT GONNA BE????? My final message to you is: get your act together or transfer. ORANGE IS THE COLOR OF CHAMPIONS. IF YOU ARE A CHAMPION, WEAR IT. IF NOT, TAKE THE DANG THING OFF.

Geofffourmyle writes:

Geez guys. The Vols are going to do fine in 2013.

Walt

UT '81

LiveFaith writes:

Walt, could you define fine?

VFL_Troll_Patrol writes:

I think what Walt means is, "Fine as in, 6-6" but even that would be great for UT at this point. It sounds bad. "the string of dropped passes and fumbled transitions, or seen the growing injury list, or noticed the absence of a top running back." ...... wow.... I know it sounds bad but It can't be any worse than last year. after one good season will come a 2nd great season. This recruiting class seems like a win. I wonder about Jabo Lee. I haven't heard anything about him yet. I bet he could step up some. Reminds me of CP! GBO

"A new leader" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4xteY...
*Im always watching*

whatthe84 writes:

I have been saying for a long time our expctations for next year should be realistic. I have been called a troll because I don't stand on my tip toes and scream go big orange while waving an orange and white shaker like a mad man. The truth is we don't have play makers on the team. Some may be developed and I hope that will happen but we don't have names with high expectations. Our running back situation has been terrible for several years and we don't have any on campus or coming next year either. All our WR have either been kicked off the team or left for the NFL. Our QB are unproven and green in this new system. We have a defense that was the worst ever last year and now they will be taking on the task of learning a new system with less than stellar players. On top of that we have a totally new coaching staff. Any fan who thinks the prospects for a good year is possible is a nut job. Someone made the comment "we will be fine" what does that mean? I hope he means in 2-3 years we will be fine because for at least 1-2 we will struggle to replenish the ranks. Dooley left the locker room empty of talent. Give coach Jones the respect and time he requires before we think we will be back.

Classof72 writes:

I hope a quarterback can run. There appear to be no running backs and no receivers. Recruit, VOLS, recruit!

Geofffourmyle writes:

in response to LiveFaith:

Walt, could you define fine?

Eight wins, maybe nine.

Walt

UT '81

6972 writes:

"Still looking for playmakers on offense"...well let's hope we find them by Sept. But, being realistic, we have to work with what we have this year. That is inexperience at QB and young inexperienced receivers.

pcorange writes:

Realistically, I think we all know that this team is not going to compete for any kind of championship this fall. They need to find a way to get enough wins to go to a bowl this year, but that will be a challenge with this very young offense. Recruiting seems to be on the upswing, so let's be positive and stand behind our coach until he gives us a reason not to. Remember, he took over after back to back to back losing seasons, so we don't need to expect a miracle in his first season.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to papavol:

This lack of experience on offense scares me big time.. I really don't know what else to say. Hopefully one or two of these guys can step up and at least, be consistent.

Crooms; Dallas; Carter and North will be the WR rotation..None of them will be long ball threats or produce like Hunter and CP but they don't have to be explosive after the catch guys. All they have to do is run the right route and don't drop catchable balls and move the chains. Chaney didn't get a lot out of Howard or any slot recievers cause he was too busy going for broke on long balls while we spent the game playing catch up!!Needless to say the offense will look much different this year

tovolny writes:

in response to whatthe84:

I have been saying for a long time our expctations for next year should be realistic. I have been called a troll because I don't stand on my tip toes and scream go big orange while waving an orange and white shaker like a mad man. The truth is we don't have play makers on the team. Some may be developed and I hope that will happen but we don't have names with high expectations. Our running back situation has been terrible for several years and we don't have any on campus or coming next year either. All our WR have either been kicked off the team or left for the NFL. Our QB are unproven and green in this new system. We have a defense that was the worst ever last year and now they will be taking on the task of learning a new system with less than stellar players. On top of that we have a totally new coaching staff. Any fan who thinks the prospects for a good year is possible is a nut job. Someone made the comment "we will be fine" what does that mean? I hope he means in 2-3 years we will be fine because for at least 1-2 we will struggle to replenish the ranks. Dooley left the locker room empty of talent. Give coach Jones the respect and time he requires before we think we will be back.

Why do you even bother with sports? Some may look at your attitude as an antidote for over-achieving, others as an excuse for under-achieving. You are hoping and expecting us to look at your attitude as a sobering reminder that we have a "long-way-baby" to return to the SEC elite. Tomorrow is a day away from yesterday. I have the attitude that if each player would strive to be a "smidgen" better today than yesterday and prepare to be a smidgen better tomorrow than today, then growth cannot be deterred. 120 times one smidgen equals superiority...I guarantee it...math doesn't lie. I know you knit sweaters for a living and sell snow cones in summer, but did you ever wonder what you could have been had you put forth some effort and not chosen the path of least resistance?

That guy that drives the yellow Sky who lives just down the street from you also has a new Lexus, a 29-foot yacht on Watts Bar Lake, and a house and a 42-foot yacht in Destin, Florida. 3 years ago he was broke after spending more than he had caring for his elderly mother. Today, he doesn't owe anybody one red cent. Lucky for him, he doesn't have a defeated and whiz poor attitude.

jschariter#367312 writes:

Got to see practice and scrimmage during faculty appreciation day. Impressed with the energy and spirit of the team as well as that of the coaching staff. During scrimmage did not see receivers get much separation from secondary that was so pourious last season, and the quarterbacks were not particularly sharp. Also odd to see TN running the read option on almost every running play with only limited success. Makes me wonder if the new offence will take advantage of one of teams major strength the offensive line.

It is a bit of concern that the defense that struggled so much last year in this particular practice pretty much dominated the offence. Maybe not that unusual early on in the team's development.

CroKev writes:

in response to tovolny:

When the running backs and big linemen start gasping for breath and sweating up to a full lather in the hot August sun, the team will evolve and the toughness will be manifested as those with heart and determination will surpass those with advertised talent and no guts. Those that are trying to just survive the practice will do nothing more than regress--but those with the Tennessee Spirit that will actually be striving to move up a notch and believe deep in their tight loins and firm abs that competing to achieve victories is of utmost importance line up ahead of the rest. Davids can defeat Goliaths
and turtles can win races against rabbits. Champions become champions by beating other champions. When Goliths begin thinking like Davids along with rabbits staying focused on the tasks at hand, an ex-champion yields to the new champion. It is all about heart, focus, and preparation. Remember this: those that "SUCCUMB" to drugs, hugs, and thugs only party with a select few for a short time; and those that “OVERCOME” temptations, sensations, and offbeat recreations emerge into win columns, lists of the honored, and noted leaders walking with heads held high among all of the world. HEY, you fellows wearing the orange jerseys, WHAT”S IT GONNA BE...YOU TELL ME...CAN YOU HANDLE THE BIG TIME...?...?...?...Think about what you will be doing 4 or 5 years from now. This is the best focus. Think not so much about what you are going to do tonight. Your future is up to YOU, the guy wearing your nose. WHAT'S IT GONNA BE????? My final message to you is: get your act together or transfer. ORANGE IS THE COLOR OF CHAMPIONS. IF YOU ARE A CHAMPION, WEAR IT. IF NOT, TAKE THE DANG THING OFF.

"...deep in their tight loins and firm abs..."

???

CoverOrange writes:

Could the dropped passes be due to the black and white football they're using? Never seen that before.

whatthe84 writes:

in response to tovolny:

Why do you even bother with sports? Some may look at your attitude as an antidote for over-achieving, others as an excuse for under-achieving. You are hoping and expecting us to look at your attitude as a sobering reminder that we have a "long-way-baby" to return to the SEC elite. Tomorrow is a day away from yesterday. I have the attitude that if each player would strive to be a "smidgen" better today than yesterday and prepare to be a smidgen better tomorrow than today, then growth cannot be deterred. 120 times one smidgen equals superiority...I guarantee it...math doesn't lie. I know you knit sweaters for a living and sell snow cones in summer, but did you ever wonder what you could have been had you put forth some effort and not chosen the path of least resistance?

That guy that drives the yellow Sky who lives just down the street from you also has a new Lexus, a 29-foot yacht on Watts Bar Lake, and a house and a 42-foot yacht in Destin, Florida. 3 years ago he was broke after spending more than he had caring for his elderly mother. Today, he doesn't owe anybody one red cent. Lucky for him, he doesn't have a defeated and whiz poor attitude.

I have never had a boat or even a canoe for that matter. I do know a man who has a boat and he even let me ride in it with him one time it was not 42 feet long though. I guess if you collect coke bottles a save your money one day you will be able to take a boat ride but you will not buy a yacht or buy a lexus. If you have an old mutt and you decide you are going to run him in a greyhound dog race and you are sure he can compete and win because he has tried each day to get better he can win. In theory that might be possible but we all know the old mutt will be left in the dust once the race begins. The power of positive thinking seems to be your sermon and there is somehing to be said for that. Usually though once the gun is fired talent, experience, coaching begins to show itself. I am just trying to balance the crazy expectations we see on here everyday. Just before last year our team the big orange according to many on here were going to turn the corner and the new 3/4 defense was going to be unbelieveable. Well we all know how that turned out. My point is let CBJ coach the team and stop the insanity about how good we are going to be next year. I guess being realistic is not permitted on here by you...huh it is reasoned to be a defeated and whiz poor attitude. Go figure.

6972 writes:

I am as big of a fan as the next guy. However, I don't suffer from illusions of grandeur. I think CBJ can get it done. But if we are looking for miracles, don't hold your breath. Have we looked at the schedule? It's a nightmare!

tovolny writes:

in response to whatthe84:

I have never had a boat or even a canoe for that matter. I do know a man who has a boat and he even let me ride in it with him one time it was not 42 feet long though. I guess if you collect coke bottles a save your money one day you will be able to take a boat ride but you will not buy a yacht or buy a lexus. If you have an old mutt and you decide you are going to run him in a greyhound dog race and you are sure he can compete and win because he has tried each day to get better he can win. In theory that might be possible but we all know the old mutt will be left in the dust once the race begins. The power of positive thinking seems to be your sermon and there is somehing to be said for that. Usually though once the gun is fired talent, experience, coaching begins to show itself. I am just trying to balance the crazy expectations we see on here everyday. Just before last year our team the big orange according to many on here were going to turn the corner and the new 3/4 defense was going to be unbelieveable. Well we all know how that turned out. My point is let CBJ coach the team and stop the insanity about how good we are going to be next year. I guess being realistic is not permitted on here by you...huh it is reasoned to be a defeated and whiz poor attitude. Go figure.

Sold any snow cones lately?

Think puppy dogs, think saplings, think minnows, think tadpoles, think caterpillars...learn to swim in a large bird bath...you, most likely, will be stranded in a world of mediocrity from now until the Tennessee River drys. I can't believe you have never seen my cousin Eddy driving by your house. Do you ever open your blinds and look outside? Don't ever take up Poker, you would loose your whizzer waiting on a full house in order to raise the bid.

rtrchatt writes:

in response to tovolny:

When the running backs and big linemen start gasping for breath and sweating up to a full lather in the hot August sun, the team will evolve and the toughness will be manifested as those with heart and determination will surpass those with advertised talent and no guts. Those that are trying to just survive the practice will do nothing more than regress--but those with the Tennessee Spirit that will actually be striving to move up a notch and believe deep in their tight loins and firm abs that competing to achieve victories is of utmost importance line up ahead of the rest. Davids can defeat Goliaths
and turtles can win races against rabbits. Champions become champions by beating other champions. When Goliths begin thinking like Davids along with rabbits staying focused on the tasks at hand, an ex-champion yields to the new champion. It is all about heart, focus, and preparation. Remember this: those that "SUCCUMB" to drugs, hugs, and thugs only party with a select few for a short time; and those that “OVERCOME” temptations, sensations, and offbeat recreations emerge into win columns, lists of the honored, and noted leaders walking with heads held high among all of the world. HEY, you fellows wearing the orange jerseys, WHAT”S IT GONNA BE...YOU TELL ME...CAN YOU HANDLE THE BIG TIME...?...?...?...Think about what you will be doing 4 or 5 years from now. This is the best focus. Think not so much about what you are going to do tonight. Your future is up to YOU, the guy wearing your nose. WHAT'S IT GONNA BE????? My final message to you is: get your act together or transfer. ORANGE IS THE COLOR OF CHAMPIONS. IF YOU ARE A CHAMPION, WEAR IT. IF NOT, TAKE THE DANG THING OFF.

Orange, the color of champions lol???? You simply
are in denial. ALABAMA, 23 SEC Titles and the only SEC school to win a fb title every decade since the SEC was formed in 1933. That is SEC CHAMPIONSHIP tradition.

Of course you do have girls bb. I will give you that one rocky flop. Girls bb...

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to 6972:

I am as big of a fan as the next guy. However, I don't suffer from illusions of grandeur. I think CBJ can get it done. But if we are looking for miracles, don't hold your breath. Have we looked at the schedule? It's a nightmare!

UT's schedule is top heavy, but after UO, FU (back to back road games) and Bammer (best coach/program in America) it's rather manageable..Of course that means winning home games against Jojaa or USCe to have a shot at being bowl eligible. We shall see & GBO!!

tovolny writes:

in response to rtrchatt:

Orange, the color of champions lol???? You simply
are in denial. ALABAMA, 23 SEC Titles and the only SEC school to win a fb title every decade since the SEC was formed in 1933. That is SEC CHAMPIONSHIP tradition.

Of course you do have girls bb. I will give you that one rocky flop. Girls bb...

A BAMA BUBBA has gotten his feelings hurt. PING !!!!!! I could take what you said and rip to shreds; however, I want to end this and move on.

Sorry Forest, go back to your box of chocolates. And, quit sleeping in that darn hounds tooth hat...you're a big boy now.

rb4346 writes:

in response to rtrchatt:

Orange, the color of champions lol???? You simply
are in denial. ALABAMA, 23 SEC Titles and the only SEC school to win a fb title every decade since the SEC was formed in 1933. That is SEC CHAMPIONSHIP tradition.

Of course you do have girls bb. I will give you that one rocky flop. Girls bb...

You can talk your phooey now, but the Big Orange is on the way back, you tide TROLL turd!

volfan2002 writes:

I think we'll be alright if we can get enough guys healthy. I think North will definitely help as a freshman. Jason Croom is gonna be a good one this season. I am still hoping Pig Howard will have a big year. Vincent Dallas, Cody Blanc, Jacob Carter, Paul Harris, and Devrin Young. Hopefully they will get it done for us this season.

rb4346 writes:

in response to volfan2002:

I think we'll be alright if we can get enough guys healthy. I think North will definitely help as a freshman. Jason Croom is gonna be a good one this season. I am still hoping Pig Howard will have a big year. Vincent Dallas, Cody Blanc, Jacob Carter, Paul Harris, and Devrin Young. Hopefully they will get it done for us this season.

Do you happen to have any information on Drae Bowles.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to rb4346:

Do you happen to have any information on Drae Bowles.

Drae Bowles is not cutting the mustard, he's a great blocker and has plenty of heart/work ethic..He's just not getting this offense enough to see the field right now. I'm friends with his father and though I haven't talked to him in weeks he was very concerned about Drae's future. A transfer to Martin or Memphis may be looming.

rb4346 writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Drae Bowles is not cutting the mustard, he's a great blocker and has plenty of heart/work ethic..He's just not getting this offense enough to see the field right now. I'm friends with his father and though I haven't talked to him in weeks he was very concerned about Drae's future. A transfer to Martin or Memphis may be looming.

Thank you very much, I appreciate the info.

rb4346 writes:

in response to RIGHTISBETTERTHANLEFT:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Someone like you calling the Vols and CBJ losers and a joke is almost as funny as someone saying your IQ is above 10. When the Vols start winning you will be one of the first TROLLS to jump on the wagon.

VolinCalif writes:

in response to Geofffourmyle:

Eight wins, maybe nine.

Walt

UT '81

Love your attitude, but maybe we should just slow down and enjoy a 7-8 win plus a bowl

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to rb4346:

Thank you very much, I appreciate the info.

No problem..I did hear Drae caught a 30yd TD pass in the last scrimmage, so hopefully things may be improving with his grasp of the offense.

whatthe84 writes:

in response to tovolny:

Sold any snow cones lately?

Think puppy dogs, think saplings, think minnows, think tadpoles, think caterpillars...learn to swim in a large bird bath...you, most likely, will be stranded in a world of mediocrity from now until the Tennessee River drys. I can't believe you have never seen my cousin Eddy driving by your house. Do you ever open your blinds and look outside? Don't ever take up Poker, you would loose your whizzer waiting on a full house in order to raise the bid.

With a post like this one its pretty obvious who needs to get out some. You have been watching too much star trek and eating way too much ramon noodles dude. You need to take your medication like the doctor told you and go lay down until spring is over. Good luck tovolny I am sure your family could use a break from watching you. I just hope there are no firearms in the house that you have access to. You really have issues.

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