Even if they're freshmen, UT receivers coach Zach Azzanni 'comfortable giving the best players playing time'

Amy Smotherman Burgess/News Sentinel
Tennessee freshman wide receiver Marquez North during practice at Haslam Field on Saturday.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Amy Smotherman Burgess/News Sentinel Tennessee freshman wide receiver Marquez North during practice at Haslam Field on Saturday.

Dontavis Sapp on Butch Jones and the Vols' new coaching staff

The football training camp gods can be whimsical and cruel, as freshman receiver Josh Smith is learning firsthand.

The Knoxville native and CAK product pushed his way onto the first team on Monday. By Tuesday night, he was isolated in “the Hole,” the fenced area designated for injured players.

Although coaches didn’t say what Smith’s injury was, it didn’t appear to be serious. He’s undoubtedly eager to be back on the field, and Tennessee receivers coach Zach Azzanni is eager to see more of him.

“Here’s the thing,” Azzanni said after Tuesday night’s practice. “I saw our receivers in the spring. I know what they can do. I’ve got 25 days to see if anybody else can help us out.”

That’s why Smith and fellow true freshman receiver Marquez North were thrown into first-team action on Monday. Azzanni said they both earned it.

“I feel a lot better now than I did (in the spring) because our depth and competition level has improved,” Azzanni said.

Azzanni said he has no problem giving snaps to true freshmen if they’re the best players on the team.

“I’m comfortable giving the best players playing time — even if they have black stripes on their helmet,” he said, referring to the strips of tape that adorn every freshman’s white helmet.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said it goes back to the “clean slate” promised every player.

“We hear what you say, but we trust what you do,” Bajakian said.

He said North and Smith have stood out for going above and beyond. “They’ve done more than the coaches have asked,” Bajakian said.

Mixed evaluation:Coaches had a mixed evaluation for Tuesday’s practice, the first in full pads.

“I wouldn’t call it sloppiness,” Bajakian said. “We just didn’t handle adversity well.”

Extra attention for Quinn:Tight end Woody Quinn, a junior college transfer who is expected to play an important role in this year’s offense, has taken plenty of grief from Butch Jones in practice since the first week in camp.

It might not be fun, but extra attention from the head coach is often a telling sign of one’s importance to the team.

“He’s trying to get the best out of people,” said tight ends coach Mark Elder.

As for Quinn, Elder said, “He’s new. He’s done some good things and some bad things.”

Worley with the ones:In the portions of practice open to the media, junior Justin Worley has worked exclusively with the ones. The consensus also seems to be that, if there’s a quarterback battle, he’s winning it.

But Bajakian said redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman receives some reps with the first group in practice, and the two true freshmen — Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs — will get better quickly.

“The game’s moving fast for them,” Bajakian said. “But as they get more reps, the game will slow down.”

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

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Comments » 18

GoVols_16 writes:

P-hirst

SouthPaVol writes:

Good article, Evan. It seems Coach ZA is taking a whole different approach to testing out freshmen, compared to say? Coach Strip.

although Strip has three talented freshmen, he is stacked with upper class men along the DL. Still expect to see a freshman break into the starting lineup along the DL, but it will probably be later than sooner.

Hope ZA don't pull his hair out trying to bring along this bunch of young receivers! Coach ZA seems attentive to media questions. Very engaging guy,with coaching skills to match I hope. Go Vols!

Henley-Street-Bridge writes:

Marquez North!!. Give me your Helmet, I'm taking that Black Tape off..!

BruisedOrange writes:

Every day brings more confidence that our program is finally turned around and the team is on track. The coaching staff exudes confidence--but with class.

I don't know if all these improvements will be reflected in the win-column THIS season (be realistic--it's a tough one), but if no disaster befalls us we're going the right direction and making good time.

Woodbery, you always deliver. Well done.

fearthehound writes:

Wonder what is the deal with Croom? He looks the part and the writers usually mention some good catches in practices, but I don't get the feeling the coaches seem to be real high on him recently.

Shake_Bake writes:

in response to fearthehound:

Wonder what is the deal with Croom? He looks the part and the writers usually mention some good catches in practices, but I don't get the feeling the coaches seem to be real high on him recently.

I was wondering about Croom also. I thought that he and North would be the starters. It is critical that these WR's get their act together and quickly. We have to have a decent passing attack in the SEC. Can't be one dimenional in this conference!

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

No lack of talent in this group..Pig has a chance to have a huge season. Will be hard to keep North off the field..Beyond that anything is possible. In the end it will be the WR that is moving the chains, Ive noticed Butch really likes screen passes, SEC LB's pride themselves on blowing up screens. It may work once and possibly twice but SEC LB's are smart and well coached, and screens usually go for lost yardage or worse unless Jones has a new wrinkle

VOLet_parking writes:

This is refreshing. Dooley refused to play his best players because they were young. D Rodgers only saw time when took an end around as a freshman, and Hunter only had 16 catches. He only inserted Bray half way through the season. Let the best players play!!!

UTQB70 writes:

North is the real deal but I'm telling you Smith will be the biggest surprise this year. He has extremely soft hands, runs excellent routes and has the speed to pick up additional yards after the catch. The kid is smooth.

bUTch_please writes:

in response to fearthehound:

Wonder what is the deal with Croom? He looks the part and the writers usually mention some good catches in practices, but I don't get the feeling the coaches seem to be real high on him recently.

My guess is the coaches know how good he can be and they are putting a little fire under his butt. Looks like if you aren't giving a 150% with these coaches you get leaned on. The more potential you have, the quicker and heavier the lean.

ewoodbery (staff) writes:

in response to SouthPaVol:

Good article, Evan. It seems Coach ZA is taking a whole different approach to testing out freshmen, compared to say? Coach Strip.

although Strip has three talented freshmen, he is stacked with upper class men along the DL. Still expect to see a freshman break into the starting lineup along the DL, but it will probably be later than sooner.

Hope ZA don't pull his hair out trying to bring along this bunch of young receivers! Coach ZA seems attentive to media questions. Very engaging guy,with coaching skills to match I hope. Go Vols!

I think it's a bit of a different scenario with the D-linemen and receivers just because the line is more of a developmental position. You like to have guys getting a year to gain weight and add strength. The speed/skill players -- receivers, corners, etc. -- are often able to make a bigger impact in Year 1.

Plus, I think the Vols' depth situation at D-line is MUCH better than WR. So ZA has no choice but to play freshman, while Strip can afford to be very selective.

That said, I think Vereen and Carr have a legit opportunity to play. The opportunities will just be much smaller than at other positions in 2013.

ewoodbery (staff) writes:

in response to bUTch_please:

My guess is the coaches know how good he can be and they are putting a little fire under his butt. Looks like if you aren't giving a 150% with these coaches you get leaned on. The more potential you have, the quicker and heavier the lean.

I think Croom will be one of the starting WRs when it's all said and done. But I don't think coaches want to hand a job to a guy who's never had a college start with 25 days left in camp. They're going to make him grind for it.
-- Evan

mikethehistorystudent writes:

This was a good article. It sounds like this year, unlike previous years, we will fight hard on every down and play solid football. I'm looking forward to upsetting one or two teams that will be overlooking us. GO VOLS

orangecountyvols writes:

Evan, and Vol FANS,

Just wanted to say nice to see your input to the subject at hand. Rarely do we see anything from the staff and the personal input is appreciated.

Certainly far better than some things from various sundry individuals.

Thanks again !

bUTch_please writes:

in response to ewoodbery:

I think Croom will be one of the starting WRs when it's all said and done. But I don't think coaches want to hand a job to a guy who's never had a college start with 25 days left in camp. They're going to make him grind for it.
-- Evan

Thanks Evan and I completely agree. Will be the best thing for the receiving corps and for Jason. He's tall, fast and has good hands. If a little seasoning can help him fight more for the reception and run his routes hard/steady every time...better for game day.

GONAVY writes:

in response to VOLet_parking:

This is refreshing. Dooley refused to play his best players because they were young. D Rodgers only saw time when took an end around as a freshman, and Hunter only had 16 catches. He only inserted Bray half way through the season. Let the best players play!!!

Tyler Bray was inserted by design after "murderer's row" as a Freshman. They used poor Simms as cannon fodder as not to bruise Bray's body nor his ego. It's simply the truth. Accept it or not...

ThaiVolFan writes:

in response to BruisedOrange:

Every day brings more confidence that our program is finally turned around and the team is on track. The coaching staff exudes confidence--but with class.

I don't know if all these improvements will be reflected in the win-column THIS season (be realistic--it's a tough one), but if no disaster befalls us we're going the right direction and making good time.

Woodbery, you always deliver. Well done.

Good post. Our coaching staff has the right kind of confidence...the kind our players can get behind and follow...not the cocky arrogance of Kiffen. And yes i too feel that we are not only going the right direction but also at a great pace. Loving the coaching staff and the way our players are behind them. I have a good feeling.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to GONAVY:

Tyler Bray was inserted by design after "murderer's row" as a Freshman. They used poor Simms as cannon fodder as not to bruise Bray's body nor his ego. It's simply the truth. Accept it or not...

That doesn't sound at all unreasonable to me. Even Dooley and staff knew Bray was immature and possibly physically brittle. The Vols weren't likely to do well in most of those early games, no matter who the QB was. Better to let Simms absorb the beatings early and preserve Bray's mind and body for better things in the future.

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