Draft losses force Vols to rely on young receivers

In this photo taken Aug. 3, 2013, Tennessee wide receiver Marquez North runs a drill during NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn. The departures of first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson and second-round choice Justin Hunter leaves Tennessee - the school that regards itself as Wide Receiver U. - without any experienced wideouts. But the arrival of some talented freshmen has receivers coach Zach Azzanni feeling better about his group than he did during spring practice. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken Aug. 3, 2013, Tennessee wide receiver Marquez North runs a drill during NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn. The departures of first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson and second-round choice Justin Hunter leaves Tennessee - the school that regards itself as Wide Receiver U. - without any experienced wideouts. But the arrival of some talented freshmen has receivers coach Zach Azzanni feeling better about his group than he did during spring practice. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken March March 9, 2013, Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni instructs players during NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn. The departures of first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson and second-round choice Justin Hunter leaves Tennessee - the school that regards itself as Wide Receiver U. - without any experienced wideouts. But the arrival of some talented freshmen has Azzanni feeling better about his group than he did during spring practice. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken March March 9, 2013, Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni instructs players during NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn. The departures of first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson and second-round choice Justin Hunter leaves Tennessee - the school that regards itself as Wide Receiver U. - without any experienced wideouts. But the arrival of some talented freshmen has Azzanni feeling better about his group than he did during spring practice. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken Aug. 3, 2013, Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni talks with running back Devrin Young during NCAA college football practice  in Knoxville, Tenn. The departures of first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson and second-round choice Justin Hunter leaves Tennessee - the school that regards itself as Wide Receiver U. - without any experienced wideouts. But the arrival of some talented freshmen has Azzanni feeling better about his group than he did during spring practice. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken Aug. 3, 2013, Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni talks with running back Devrin Young during NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn. The departures of first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson and second-round choice Justin Hunter leaves Tennessee - the school that regards itself as Wide Receiver U. - without any experienced wideouts. But the arrival of some talented freshmen has Azzanni feeling better about his group than he did during spring practice. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken Aug. 3, 2013, Tennessee wide receiver Josh Smith runs a drill during NCAA college football game in Knoxville, Tenn. The departures of first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson and second-round choice Justin Hunter leaves Tennessee - the school that regards itself as Wide Receiver U. - without any experienced wideouts. But the arrival of some talented freshmen has Azzanni feeling better about his group than he did during spring practice. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

In this photo taken Aug. 3, 2013, Tennessee wide receiver Josh Smith runs a drill during NCAA college football game in Knoxville, Tenn. The departures of first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson and second-round choice Justin Hunter leaves Tennessee - the school that regards itself as Wide Receiver U. - without any experienced wideouts. But the arrival of some talented freshmen has Azzanni feeling better about his group than he did during spring practice. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

Tennessee wide receiver Pig Howard makes a catch during NCAA college football practice Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn.  (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

Tennessee wide receiver Pig Howard makes a catch during NCAA college football practice Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

Vols run through practice on Aug. 6

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee prides itself as Wide Receiver U. because of its history of producing pros at that position, and the latest NFL Draft decimated the Volunteers' receiving corps.

The Minnesota Vikings selected Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round, the Tennessee Titans took Justin Hunter in the second round and the Oakland Raiders chose tight end Mychal Rivera in the sixth round. Zach Rogers signed as a free agent with the New York Jets.

Their departures leave Tennessee without any wideouts who caught more than 13 passes or accumulated more than 149 receiving yards last season. Marquez North and Josh Smith, freshmen who weren't around for spring practice, already are getting first-team reps. All starting positions in the receiving corps remain up for grabs.

"I told my wife today this season may age me about 10 years," Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni quipped after Tuesday night's practice. "There will be some peaks and valleys for sure. There will be a lot of growing pains, but they're willing and it will be fun coaching these young guys."

Tennessee's lack of proven playmakers in the passing game represents a major concern heading into the Aug. 31 season opener with Austin Peay. A first-year starting quarterback who hasn't been named yet will be throwing to an untested receiving corps.

Azzanni says he feels "a lot better" about his receivers now than in spring practice, when his players struggled to adapt to new coach Butch Jones' fast-paced offense.

"We've come a long way," sophomore Alton "Pig" Howard said. "A lot of us got used to the offense. Everyone's buying in. We're way more conditioned."

The arrival of a talented freshman class provides hope. The headliner in that group is North, one of the nation's top receiving prospects in his class.

At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, North possesses the size this receiving corps was seeking. Tennessee's only wideouts who caught a pass last year - Howard, junior Jacob Carter, junior Vincent Dallas and converted running back Devrin Young - are 6 feet or shorter. The Vols do have 6-5 redshirt freshman Jason Croom, who has earned plenty of praise from the new staff.

"In a very small time, (North) has proven that he's going to be one of our playmakers," Jones said. "He's dynamic. He's strong. He's physical. He can run."

Smith also has made a favorable impression, though an injury prevented him from working out with the other receivers Tuesday. Newcomers also include Blinn (Texas) College transfer Johnathon Johnson plus freshmen Paul Harris and Ryan Jenkins. Harris enrolled in time to participate in spring practice.

Azzanni said he likes to rotate as many as nine receivers, so every wideout on the roster has an opportunity. These receivers are getting a crash course on how to thrive with this staff.

Howard said he's watched film of Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, who transformed from walk-on to star while playing for Jones and Azzanni at Central Michigan. Azzanni, who came to Tennessee from Wisconsin, said he spent the majority of an hour-long meeting Tuesday showing clips of Jared Abbrederis, a former walk-on who earned all-Big Ten honors with the Badgers a year ago.

Perhaps one of these young receivers eventually develops into the next Abbrederis or Brown so that Tennessee fans won't spend the season looking back wistfully at the exploits of Patterson and Hunter. But no leader from this group has emerged just yet.

"I wish we had a little bit more 'alpha male' in our group, but we just don't," Azzanni said. "Part of the reason is because we don't have a guy who's stepped up and taken a starting job yet. No one's really stepped up and said, 'I'm the man. Follow me.' Everyone's still trying to find their way, feel their way and earn a spot."

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Comments » 27

brod writes:

would be great if only one of the trio of hunter, rogers, and patterson was there this year.

Lizardgrad89 writes:

Your passing game is going to be your undoing this year. Teams will overload the box and choke your offense. Your defense has a long way to go to be anywhere close to decent. People who think this is a bowl team really don't understand football.

baldingalum writes:

It is important to note that North ran a lot in high school. He has good moves with the ball. He is also NOT built like your typical true freshman. He is 6'4" but also physically stronger and bigger than you would think someone so young would be. He is not rail thin. I see them throwing out to him in the flat and letting him beat corners to the edge or run over them. He will stretch the field.

antonio14313 writes:

i really hope that zach rogers has a successful NFL career! could be a wayne chrebet type...

go vols.

t

Razzle writes:

in response to Lizardgrad89:

Your passing game is going to be your undoing this year. Teams will overload the box and choke your offense. Your defense has a long way to go to be anywhere close to decent. People who think this is a bowl team really don't understand football.

Oh I'm so glad we got Mr. Football himself here to set us all straight.

antonio14313 writes:

if this coaching staff can transform a walk on into a NFL wideout, then UT will be in good shape.

go vols!

t

6972 writes:

in response to Lizardgrad89:

Your passing game is going to be your undoing this year. Teams will overload the box and choke your offense. Your defense has a long way to go to be anywhere close to decent. People who think this is a bowl team really don't understand football.

Vince Lombary's voice speaks out from the grave.

I can relax now, knowing how the season is going to go.

y9since80 writes:

in response to Lizardgrad89:

Your passing game is going to be your undoing this year. Teams will overload the box and choke your offense. Your defense has a long way to go to be anywhere close to decent. People who think this is a bowl team really don't understand football.

You may be right about passing game but you are so wrong about the defense they will be better than decent much better.

IB4UT2 writes:

I'm glad the gators are already trolling. I for one have never spent time on their boards because I have a life I guess.

IB4UT2 writes:

If you are a florida fan and posting on a vols board, you are the definitive answer to: 'What is a true looser?'

SummittsCourt writes:

in response to Lizardgrad89:

Your passing game is going to be your undoing this year. Teams will overload the box and choke your offense. Your defense has a long way to go to be anywhere close to decent. People who think this is a bowl team really don't understand football.

Look what crawled out from under his rock today to give his usual moronic view of things. YOU must really be pathetic to come on another teams news website to prove to the world how dumb you are.

SummittsCourt writes:

These young receives will surprise many this season. Go Vols!

bUTch_please writes:

Our OL was the best pass blocking line in the SEC when they were sophomores. Betty White could sit in that pocket and hum jump balls to Croom 'n North all. day. long.

9-3 is fine by me.
Go Team #117!

dragon18 writes:

in response to Lizardgrad89:

Your passing game is going to be your undoing this year. Teams will overload the box and choke your offense. Your defense has a long way to go to be anywhere close to decent. People who think this is a bowl team really don't understand football.

This is probably a fair post factually, albeit given with a good dose of being a Gator Fan. Unproven does not mean incapable though concerning our receivers and quarterbacks. And we both know that last year's defense was abysmal probably more from an overly complicated scheme rather than lower tier talent. I think it is more fair to say that we are absolutely unproven in some vital areas.

voloffaith writes:

in response to IB4UT2:

If you are a florida fan and posting on a vols board, you are the definitive answer to: 'What is a true looser?'

Like "Greatest" LOSER...........However if they are too LOOSE with a chomper fan angst may occur...........are my shoe laces too LOOSE?

On topic, I don't deny that a losING record is very probable, but at the same time at best a 7-5 is possible. Tough schedule with too many key positions to be filled. Thus we still say play the games..................

pingkr62 writes:

Can someone give me a quick update on the team since practice started. I have been away for a few days. Thanks.

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

Look what crawled out from under his rock today to give his usual moronic view of things. YOU must really be pathetic to come on another teams news website to prove to the world how dumb you are.

Summitts,

I see you commented to something the lizard troll said. Of course, since I know he's a pitiful troll, I didn't read anything he said.

But guess what? His screen name says it all.
A lizard does in fact crawl. Just as this troll crawls in on our site with his insecurity.

Priceless

CoverOrange writes:

Tom Hanks was right about boxes of chocolates, you really won't know what you'll get until you open the box. Could be truffles, could be milk-duds. As dragon said, unproven does not mean incapable.

tfortennessee writes:

in response to Lizardgrad89:

Your passing game is going to be your undoing this year. Teams will overload the box and choke your offense. Your defense has a long way to go to be anywhere close to decent. People who think this is a bowl team really don't understand football.

I guess we will soon know if you are right or wrong. As the ol sayin goes, that's why they play the games. I suspect we'll be a little better than you can to give us credit for, but only time will tell.

UTvols33 writes:

in response to Lizardgrad89:

Your passing game is going to be your undoing this year. Teams will overload the box and choke your offense. Your defense has a long way to go to be anywhere close to decent. People who think this is a bowl team really don't understand football.

I can appreciate this guy. He doesn't disguise himself and seems to at least attempt to use logic, although such a detailed prediction this early is ridiculous. At least he isn't talking smack like the other trolling fans of other teams.

GO VOLS! BEAT FLORIDA!

Orange_Beach writes:

The rest of the SEC lost Tyler Bray to the drat too.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

We have a good shot at 7-5 IF we beat Mizzou! AND Auburn?

But I suppose we have just as good a shot at 5-7!!!

Let's go Vols.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

On the web link above; 10 disappointing nfl rookies..Hunter and Patterson are both on the 10 list but mostly because the QB's throwing to them can't pass

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

On the web link above; 10 disappointing nfl rookies..Hunter and Patterson are both on the 10 list but mostly because the QB's throwing to them can't pass

Maybe they should put Bray in.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to bUTch_please:

Our OL was the best pass blocking line in the SEC when they were sophomores. Betty White could sit in that pocket and hum jump balls to Croom 'n North all. day. long.

9-3 is fine by me.
Go Team #117!

Imagine what the Vols would look like with North, Croom, and Quinn as the starting receiving corps, none under 6'4". I see lots of frustrated 5'10" DBs and lots of PI and defensive holding penalties.

clemvol writes:

If one are all of last years receivers were back this year would all the negatisim be put off until the following year? Remember this is college football and each and every year brings its own team and player expectations. Players come and players go, just enjoy what each and every year brings (unless you are gambling your familys grocery money and if that's the case then stay away from bridges or make sure your life insurance is paid up). It's just a game, not life and death. Get real and get off the whinning attitude.

bUTch_please writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Imagine what the Vols would look like with North, Croom, and Quinn as the starting receiving corps, none under 6'4". I see lots of frustrated 5'10" DBs and lots of PI and defensive holding penalties.

If you ever want a chuckle, go check the height of the belly crawlers DBs. Don't cha know for a fact that Coach Jones is pushing every button he can to make sure what you've noted comes true.

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