Vols practice on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013
One year ago this month, Jacob Carter was pulled aside after practice by then-Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley. After two years as a walk-on, the undersized wide receiver from Nashville was told he’d earned a scholarship.
It was a deserved distinction. It was also one resulting from the dismissal of then-standout receiver Da’Rick Rogers.
If Carter thought he’d stolen fire from the sky with the scholarship, then this year’s circumstances are at least equally absurd.
Carter is now UT’s third-leading returning receiver. He’s being asked to lead a young group of receivers as a wiley veteran but, despite all that, is battling for a job after being left off the preseason depth chart.
“I do (consider the circumstances) every now and then, but you can’t really think too much about the past,” Carter said following Monday’s practice as Haslam Field. “I feel like I’m blessed to be here, but I can’t ever be satisfied. That’s how a lot of the guys are.”
And there are a lot of guys. Carter’s absence from the depth chart means he’s behind at least seven receivers, including fellow returnees Vincent Dallas and Pig Howard. The three combined for 40 catches last season, while the departed Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Zach Rogers accounted for 54 percent of the team’s catches (154), 62.1 percent of the receiving yards (2,352) and 60 percent of the touchdown receptions (21).
“(Playing time) is kind of in (the veteran’s) hands, but there’s no real entitlement right now,” Carter said. “Even though we have a few catches, that doesn’t really mean much. The opportunity is kind of in the air right now.”
Wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni has enlisted Carter and Dallas to lead his herd of young wideouts. This sets up a quagmire. Carter and Dallas, in their own right, want playing time and still have a lot to prove.
“You can’t really worry about that,” said Carter, who finished 2012 with eight catches for 124 yards and one touchdown. “You’re trying to get everybody better because it’s not really about self-promotion ... You don’t really want to put anyone else down for you to get up.”
Carter said he’s unaware when roles will be defined and playing time delineated.
“Right now we’re rotating a lot and I think it’s going to stay that way for a while,” he said.
But for now, Carter remains deep in the depth chart. If he needs any motivation, he can just look to this time last year.
Crazier things have happened.
Training day:Tight end Justin King, linebacker Christian Harris, strong safeties LaDarrell McNeil and Byron Moore each spent the early portion of Monday’s practice on the sidelines working with trainers.
Extra running:Running backs coach Robert Gillespie was displeased with Rajion Neal’s execution of a drill and subsequent reaction to being corrected during period five of practice.
Neal was still running laps when practice was closed to the media after period seven.
Getting relentless:The newest addition to UT’s preseason is an orange banner reading “RELENTLESS” covering the scaffolding of a 30-foot video tower in the far end zone lining Todd Helton Drive.
Flock from the North:Few Vols have enjoyed the influx of Michiganders to the UT coaching staff more than backup nose tackle Danny O’Brien.
The Flint native is the only UT player hailing from Michigan, while coach Butch Jones, seven of his nine assistants and most of the training staff are from the state or have ties there.
“Some of those guys are from Saginaw and other rival cities to Flint and we always joke around,” O’Brien said. “It’s a good time. It’s definitely good to have some people from (Michigan) down here.”
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee football and men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.