Position rewind/preview: Wide receivers
Suddenly, these daily features are becoming a bit precarious with the departure of Mike Bajakian and wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Zach Azzanni confirmed to be a legitimate candidate at Central Michigan, according to sources within the Tennessee football program.
Especially as we move forward today to look at Azzanni's wide receivers corps.
So here as the Vols are nearly a week into Camp Dave Lawson for their winter workouts, we take a look back at the big question of each position heading into last season and how it was answered as well as an early look at what to expect from the positions this spring. Today, we continue with the wideouts.
2014-15 REWIND/PREVIEW: RUNNING BACKS
Volquest.com pre-season question: ARE THERE ENOUGH PASSES TO GO AROUND?
We somewhat missed on that question, if only because Azzanni and Bajakian both told us late last year it was the worst cycle of injuries at the wide receiver position they had ever endured in a single season. It began with Cody Blanc, continued with Josh Smith, impacted Von Pearson and ultimately cut short Marquez North's season midway through and then robbed Jason Croom of the bowl game, with Croom still in the early stages of recovering from a nasty patella injury
The group, however, did show a nice ability to have myriad playmakers step up.
Jacob Carter is definitely gone after graduating, and there's speculation that other members of the group with remaining eligibility could soon depart. We've documented the chatter about both Ryan Jenkins and Vic Wharton, though just one week ago Wharton had indicated to folks on campus he was very pleased at Tennessee. Additionally, there's some speculation on Blanc.
Regardless, if the group gets healthy, it again should be a strength with a variety of key skill-sets.
Howard showed a tremendous amount of growth on and off the field last year, after nearly being dismissed from the program. North, as we reported last season, was so intent on improving his route-running that he had to sit out a couple days' practice with bloodied toes and feet. Von Pearson only began to scratch the surface and could take an even greater step forward with much more comfort on the college level.
This spring camp, especially with the group nearing a greater level of full health minus Croom, is a critical time to begin earning playing time --- especially as the Vols will be welcoming in a new offensive coordinator. It's players' first chance to make a strong impression.
Preston Williams, Vincent Perry and Jocquez Bruce all could potentially find homes in the group this summer to bolster depth and competition.
[rl]19 Different players who caught at least one pass during Tennessee's 2014 season. Granted, not every player was a wide receiver but that unit stepped up big-time. In fact …
8 Vols' wideouts caught at least one touchdown over the course of the season, ranging from true freshmen Vic Wharton and Josh Malone to junior college newcomer Von Pearson, the leader of the group with five TD snags.
166 Receptions the Vols are poised to return in the form of their top five pass-catchers from this past season: Howard, Pearson, North, Malone and Croom.
Eye towards spring:
Health is No. 1. Competition and growing their comfort level and chemistry with Josh Dobbs are next. It will be interesting to see how Tennessee, especially with a new coordinator, manages Dobbs and how much they foster the competition among wideouts. Howard didn't participate in spring last year, and North will be very limited this year. Croom won't be there. Who handles the moment?
Tennessee's wide receivers corps should be a strength moving forward, and the spring is an opportunity to really hone some things with Dobbs. Don't be surprised if Malone turns heads early while Pearson becomes a more complete player. Watch Smith attack the camp with a real purpose. And there will be opportunities for others, but it will be a battle for those guys to get to catch passes from Dobbs with the rest of the quarterback battle very unclear.