Sept. 8, 2011
KNOXVILLE - With more than a month to spare before Halloween, Tennessee sophomore wide receiver Justin Hunter is doing his best to scare people.
But he's not using a costume. He's displaying potential, instead. Hunter put on a dazzling performance in UT's season-opener against Montana with career-highs of six receptions and 146 yards, while finding the end zone once.
"I think Justin (Hunter) is maturing at a fast pace," wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. "I can say that his improvement from the end of last year to the present is tremendous. If he continues to improve, the sky is the limit for him. I'm very excited about what he can do and what he could be.
"The good thing about him is that he listens and he studies the game. He's going to get better and that is exciting for me. The more he lifts and the more he is around the weight room and good eating habits, he's going to get stronger and bigger. That's scary to think about."
Baggett, who has coached the likes of Randy Moss and Cris Carter, is cautiously optimistic about Hunter's future.
"I think his capacity is unlimited, I really do," Baggett said. "I hate to get too excited about young guys too early, but he is a guy that really excites me. I think he can handle a lot. He has played a lot of ball, but if you look at him he is really young. He is a sophomore, coming off a freshman season. I'm excited about the fact that we can give him more, we move him in the slot, put him outside, put him in the one-receiver set. He can do a lot of things."
The owner of UT's freshman record of seven touchdowns, Hunter's ability to play at any receiver position has made him invaluable to the offense.
"He's fast, he's long and he's really worked hard at becoming a complete wide receiver," head coach Derek Dooley said. "He blocks. We've started moving him around, putting him in the slot, putting him at Z and putting him at X. He's shown an ability to make plays at all those positions. We're going to keep trying to feature him as long as he keeps giving us production back. He has the chance to be a really good one."
Tennessee practiced at Haslam Field for the final time Thursday morning, as a Friday walkthrough is the only thing standing between the Vols and their second opponent, Cincinnati.
Tennessee's defensive coaches are all well aware of Cincinnati senior quarterback Zach Collaros and his dual-threat ability. Defensive backs coach Terry Joseph even went as far as to make a comparison to a future NFL Hall of Famer.
"The guy (Zach Collaros) does a great job of extending the plays and we got to do a great job of matching them up in coverage," Joseph said. "Scramble drills are something that we are really stressing this week in practice because the guy extends plays a ton.
"He's a kind of Brett Favre type of guy."
While the secondary will have its hands full with the Bearcat signal-caller, everything starts upfront.
"The big thing with this kid is when you rush him you can't take your eyes off of him," defensive line coach Lance Thompson said. "You have to have your eyes on him and you have to be in front of him. You can't be high and be by the quarterback because he kills people. He's a very good player and he causes you a lot of issues with his feet and his arm."
While Tennessee's goals are high for 2011, the Vols are playing with 14 starters that are either freshmen or sophomores. UT is searching for advancement in its FBI.
"We got some good help inside out, but we are trying to teach them football," Thompson said. "We get guys to have what we call FBI, be smart guys playing with football intelligence, but like I said it's a good start."
The first game of the season is an important indicator of where the team is at. Like all units, the offensive line is using it as a learning experience.
"The first game is really important that they learn from it," offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. "I don't think we played like we're capable but that's why you practice and it's why you compete. We've got to keep busting out butts through practice and move forward."
OL FOCUSED ON C'S
Tennessee rushed for 128 yards against Montana, but the offensive line is focused on two things heading into game two: communication and consistency.
"It's critical for the success of the unit to play well together," Hiestand said. "That the unit understands what the other guys are doing, and that they can count on each other with positive communication and getting things done the right way. We're inconsistent with that. We have to build our consistency."
The Vols' front five will look to avoid cluttered communication as they look to win the battle in the trenches against a Cincinnati defense that allowed 127 yards rushing in the Bearcats' season-opening win against Austin Peay.
"They all have to see the same thing and take responsibility for what the fronts are doing, and what the defenders are doing," Hiestand said. "It's a combination of sometimes focusing to much on one thing and then something else happens."
Wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett
(On Tennessee's young receivers' playing time)
"I was telling the young guys that I would like to see them play more, but they are in the same situation that Da'Rick (Rogers) and Justin (Hunter) were in a year ago. We slowly brought them along and got their feet wet, then at the end of the year they had a little bit more playing time. I think it is going to be a very similar situation as a year ago with Vincent Dallas and DeAnthony Arnett and some of the other young guys that are trying to get playing time."
(On having a balanced offense)
"The one thing that helps when you have two good receivers outside is to be able to have a running game. It's hard for the defense to concentrate on all three - two receivers and then a running back. What we are hoping is that our running game comes along and our passing game continues to improve. Just from experience, over the years when I've had two good receivers and we have a good running game or a good running back, it's hard on the defense. That's what we are hoping is going to happen here."
Quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw
(On sophomore Tyler Bray)
"Coach Chaney and I always talk to (Tyler Bray) about one play at a time. You can't worry about that kind of stuff (pressure). You are a quarterback. You are a quarterback in the SEC. In that process, you just take one play at a time, you don't worry about anything else but what you have to do. Get the ball to the playmakers, go execute the offense and go do your job. If you think like that, there won't be any pressure being put on you and you won't think about outside things because you have to take clutter and all that kind of stuff, wash it away and take it outside your mind."
Defensive line coach Lance Thompson
(On defensive lineman Maurice Couch)
"Mo (Couch) did some really good things, especially for a first time out on this kind of stage and I was really pleased. He's a force."
(On Cincinnati's offense)
"These guys have three talented players, their quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. They are big time. This is a good football team and we are going to have our work cut out for us."
Defensive backs coach Terry Joseph
(On taking advantage of defensive scoring opportunities)
"We feel if we can score on defense our chance of winning goes up tremendously, so we do it in practice and we reward them. We make a big deal out of it."
(On defensive back Byron Moore)
"I think right now, especially with Byron (Moore), it's about getting snaps as he continues to develop. He allows us to do a lot of different things at the nickel position. He can maybe open up some options as far as the corner, because Prentiss can always go over there."