April 18, 2012

Vols seeking to stabilize receiving corps

Clearly, receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers have proved their merit. What's murkier, though, is the situation at receiver behind the two.

Rogers and Hunter have combined for just less than 2,000 receiving yards and 20 touchdown catches in their two years, but behind the junior duo there's a significant drop-off in terms of production.

With no one clearly establishing himself as a playmaker behind Hunter and Rogers, receivers coach Darin Hinshaw said the group has to get better and more competition awaits in the fall.

"We've got some young guys that are working, that are working really hard and Justin and Da'Rick are, too," Hinshaw said. "We've got to get better at wide receiver all the way across the board. We've got to continue to gain depth and we've got four guys that are coming in. It's going to create competition and it's going to make everyone better."

Even though there may not be a lot of production behind Hunter and Rogers, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said the group behind them has done some good things.

"I think Zach (Rogers<)/b> shows up every day, Vincent (Dallas) shows up with physicality in the perimeter running game and such. Cody Blanc flashes good signs of being a good football player for us in due time. I think Jacob Carter, from Day One to the end has done a lot of nice things. I think the receivers as a whole are trying to be more physical, and that's been pleasing to see," Chaney said.

As the only senior in the group, Zach Rogers has the most experience of the unit seeing action in 36 games and starting in 10 of them. But, injured at some point every season he's also been lost in the shuffle at times.

Hinshaw credited the Nashville native of having a good spring with only two practices left.

"Zach had a really good week last week and had a really good week this week. Making some plays and that's what he's got to continue to do," Hinshaw said. "He knows the offense like the back of his hand and he understands when he needs to get open. He's just got to go fight and go get that ball and keep working at that. He's doing a good job."

Now that the Vols are still exiting spring with questions if anyone will step up behind the Vols' leading receiving duo, Chaney said depth at that position is and isn't a concern for him.

"Can you get enough (depth)? Have you ever met a coach who said, 'We've got too much depth.' I'm waiting on that. I haven't seen that. You always like to have as much quality depth as you possibly can get, so is it a concern? Yes, and it will be until I retire from the sport of football."

CARTER TURNING HEADS

No spring practice is really complete without a walk-on making some noise, a role that wide receiver Jacob Carter has stepped up to fill to perfection in the last week. With only five scholarship receivers on the roster at the moment, opportunities have been abundant this spring and the sophomore Carter has made the most of his chances.

He was the leading receiver in terms of yardage with four catches for 102 yards in last Saturday's scrimmage and Derek Dooley made it a point to single him out for some praise after the fact.

His position coach, Darin Hinshaw, says it's no secret as to why Carter has been showing up this spring.

"Jacob Carter is doing well because he's doing all the little things right. We talk about the best 'ability' being 'account-ability.' He's listening, understanding where he makes mistakes," Hinshaw said, praising Carter's attitude and attention to detail. "When you go out and play every down like it's your last you're going to make plays, you're going to make blocks, you're going to consistently do the right things."

The question as April draws to a close is whether or not Carter is just a nice spring practice storyline, or if he has a legitimate shot to carve out a role for himself in a receiving corps that should be more adequately stocked come August.

Hinshaw seemed to scoff at the notion that Carter was simply a practice field story.

"When you're accountable, when you don't make mistakes, when you line up correctly every time and you'll go block, heck yeah, guess what, you could very easily play next year," Hinshaw said of Carter's chances of hanging around on the depth chart in a meaningful role.

A SPRING IN HIS STEP

No player has had more eyes on him this spring than wide receiver Justin Hunter. The supremely gifted wideout entered spring practice still mired in rehabbing the torn ACL that prematurely ended his sophomore campaign, but he has worked hard at keeping pace with his teammates.

Hunter's comeback seemed to take a large leap forward on Saturday when he took part in the Vols' scrimmage, a move that suggests he's at least on pace in his return, if not ahead of schedule.

He caught two balls for 70 yards on the day, including a 50-yard touchdown reception. More impressive to the coaching staff was the attitude and work ethic he displayed in pushing himself to not just get on the field, but to stay out there.

"I was excited to see him go out and get after it on Saturday. He went out there and made some plays. We saw a little bit of the old Justin Hunter come out. He's starting to get that twitch, that fire back in that knee. He's running better, moving better. He's got a long way to go but it was sure good to have him back out there," Hinshaw said of Hunter and what he's shown this spring.

"He's been great about pushing himself. He had the most reps of the wide receivers on Saturday, he didn't want to come out. That's what we wanted to see. We wanted him to force things, to press the issue and he did that. I'm really proud of how far he's come."

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