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May 14, 2012

A closer look at the wideouts

When you talk about the Tennessee wide receiver unit, there's little debate as to how good juniors Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter are. And there's little debate as to how much anticipation there is surrounding the arrival of junior college wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The rest of the receiving corps is a debate that's full of question marks with inexperience and youth.

Our breakdown of the Vol offense continues with a look at the Tennessee wide receivers.

Breaking down the WR's:
Starter: Justin Hunter, 6-4, 200, JR

Improved: Was simply further along physically from the knee injury than anyone expected.

Summer target: Must get the knee back to 100%. More importantly must gain confidence in the knee and get over any mental hurdles.

Starter: Da'Rick Rogers, 6-3, 210, JR

Improved: Faster, leaner, and stronger. Was mentally better the second half of spring practice.

Summer target: Must remained focused and continue to be a better teammate so that he's not a distraction to the team.

The rest: Zach Rogers, Vincent Dallas, Cody Blanc and Jacob Carter

Improved: Zach Rogers - improved consistency catching the ball; Dallas - caught the ball better, better understanding of the offense; Blanc - true freshman; Carter - essentially a newcomer

Summer target: Zach Rogers - be more physical and durable; Dallas - more consistent and more polished as a receiver; Blanc - better grasp of the offense, get stronger; Carter - improve quickness and speed.

Justin Hunter - The junior did more during spring practice than anyone expected. Hunter is physically well on track to be 100-percent by kickoff in Atlanta. But mentally, the Virginia native admitted to some reservations with the knee as well as some frustrations with not being able to do things as well as he thinks he should. And maybe Hunter has some reservations, but his return to the lineup certainly changes a lot of things about offense. It obviously makes them more talented, but it also changes the confidence level with the unit. It showed up in Hunter's limited work in the only scrimmage he participated in. On the first drive, Hunter caught two passes including a 50-yard touchdown. Physically, Hunter must continue to progress this summer and mentally, he must get past some of the hurdles and apprehensions with his knee that bothered him in the spring.

Da'Rick Rogers - When Rogers is dialed in, he's as good as any receiver in the SEC. When he's not, he's as big of a distraction as there is in the SEC. Rogers spent the first week of spring practice causing Vol fans to worry about whether or not he was transferring to Georgia State after a series of tweets about his unhappiness over some internal punishment. Once he returned from his one-practice suspension for not completing his punishment workout, Rogers was a model teammate and had a really productive spring. Physically, Rogers is better than ever. He's leaner, stronger and quicker than a year ago. Rogers showed a year ago he can be really productive regardless of who is playing quarterback and whether or not he has a receiver like Hunter lining up opposite of him. With both Hunter and Rogers, the passing game can be as explosive as any in the country. The challenge is for Rogers to be focused over the summer to continue to improve and be at his best not only as a player, but as a teammate come the season opener in Atlanta.

Zach Rogers - Here's where it gets interesting. There is a significant drop-off after Hunter and Rogers. And that's not a huge negative statement considering the talent that those two have. But with spring practice over, the question remains who's going to be the third receiver. The senior Rogers is the obvious choice as he has the most experience and production of any receiver not named Justin or Da'Rick. The concern with Zach Rogers is can he remain healthy as he has struggled with injuries his entire career. Rogers caught the ball more consistently in the spring, and he reportedly had the highlight catch of the spring with a leaping, twisting grab one day in practice, but the Nashville native needs to continue to play more physical against press-man coverage.

Vincent Dallas - The sophomore has been on campus for a year and is still trying to find his way as a college receiver. Dallas has not showed the consistency at the receiver position from things like catching the ball to the little things to get open. With a sled-load of newcomers it was an important spring for Dallas and while it wasn't a terrible spring for the Georgia native as he did make some strides, he didn't emerge as a guy that the offense is ready to count on. Further, the competition to be that guy will increase in August with the arrival of the incoming class of receivers. Dallas must be better at the little things as a receiver and that must be his focus this summer. He is excelling as a downfield blocker from the receiver position.

Cody Blanc - The true freshman was one of the biggest surprises of spring practice. When Blanc committed to the Vols a summer ago, many said, who? And why? Blanc drew the most attention for his speed and everyone wondered where he could play in college. Many thought it would be at safety. But because of the Vols lack of receiver depth, Blanc started his career this spring on offense and made the most of the opportunity. At 6-1, 205 pounds, Blanc showed a physical presence as an inside slot receiver and did enough to have everyone curious to see how he plays once he learns the offensive playbook better.

Jacob Carter - If Blanc was a surprise in the spring, Carter was a shocker. Carter's production in spring practice was impressive. Carter showed really good hands all spring and a knack for getting open despite not being the most athletic receiver. The reality is that Carter likely won't be a factor at receiver come the fall, but he did show enough in the spring to play special teams and to be a help in an emergency role. Carter must continue to work on his speed and quickness this summer.



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