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March 17, 2013Tennessee's receivers need every snap they can get, but that doesn't mean the young, inexperienced group of wideouts is sacrificing quality for quantity.
Butch Jones has made it clear that every rep counts in his practices. He made it evident Saturday during Tennessee's first situational scrimmage of spring practice inside Neyland Stadium.
"(Coaches) always say, there's no in between," redshirt freshman Jason Croom said. "You either do, or you don't. So we're either winning or we're not. And we're trying to win every rep.
"It keeps it competitive, everybody working hard. Everybody wants to be out there."
The depth chart at receiver is up for grabs as much as any position on the field as Tennessee closed its first week of spring camp, working towards the April 20 Orange & White game.
Jacob Carter, Cody Blanc and Devrin Young got the first snaps in team drills Saturday, with Croom, sophomore Alton 'Pig' Howard and early enrollee Paul Harris working their way in.
"Everybody is just working hard," Croom said. "Nobody wants to be left out, so everybody is just working their hardest to get on the field."
Howard made clear the receivers have to continue to put in work on and off the field.
"We're learning a new offense; a new tempo with all new coaches," Howard said. "It's about building chemistry and coming together and executing. That's something we have been doing and something we're going to continue to do."
Just how mentally and physically challenging have Tennessee's receivers been worked through four practices? Croom said he hasn't even had time to pay attention to who's in at quarterback before he looks back for the ball.
"I didn't really get to see who was in," Croom said Saturday when asked about the position battle between Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman. "I was just focused on getting my position down and moving at a fast pace."
The ball coming out of the quarterback's hand and making the catch are the end of a long sequence for the likes of Croom and Howard when it comes to winning or losing a rep.
"It's a lot quicker, just with the play-calling and the signals," Howard said. " ... If you're not in your playbook, it's going to be tough.
"Then again, if you prepare yourself mentally in the film room and outside of football, it'll be a lot easier."
The tempo hasn't changed to make up for the scheme installation, either.
"It's so fast, it's a complete difference," Croom said. "Line up fast, get back to your side, correct technique."
But it's the every-rep-counts mindset that's making a difference.
"People are getting after it more," Howard said. "A lot of people have woke up. Spring days isn't going to be the best days, everybody is going to be a little rusty, but we've got together and got better each and every day. We're hungry out here."
More specifically, Tennessee's receivers have had to get better every snap.
"You have to value every rep in everything that you do," Jones said. "That's how you improve. And you value every rep to win that rep.
"That's just a mindset that we're working towards getting here each and every snap, each and every day."
Zach Azzanni put it another way to his receivers.
"Coach Azzanni, he's focused on the little things," Howard said. "He tells us it's like eating an elephant. Take bite by bite and each day get better."