Oct. 4, 2011
KNOXVILLE - While Tennessee sophomores Tyler Bray and Da'Rick Rogers are garnering plenty of attention - and rightfully so - freshman wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett has quietly made the most of his playing time so far.
"DeAnthony is a talented guy," head coach Derek Dooley said. "He has real good transition. He has good ball skills. He has good feel for the game. His biggest thing right now is playing fast without the ball and that's something that all freshmen really struggle with is learning to play fast without the ball. He's still working on that."
While Arnett is still working, things are simplifying with the increased experience.
"It's been more than I thought," Arnett said of his adjustment to college while meeting with the media for the first time. "A lot of plays, a lot of shifts and motion. It's been a lot. It's been tough on me, especially the first two games and all through training camp. Once I got it down, I got it down pat. It's coming easier to me."
After sophomore Justin Hunter suffered a torn ACL at Florida, Arnett's opportunity increased - one that he's not taking for granted.
Since the injury, Arnett has tallied 11 receptions for 86 yards and three touchdowns.
"I just know I have to step up more," Arnett said. "I have to take practice more seriously. I don't want to be treated like a freshman anymore and I try to tell the coaches that all the time. They say they're not going to treat me like a freshman, but they expect me to step my level of play up."
His consistency has helped him build trust in his quarterback.
"He's just running his routes and he is running them consistently," Bray said. "He's not changing the way he's doing it, so as a quarterback that helps. When a guy runs it one way one time then switches it up the next time, it kind of throws off your timing. Him just keeping his routes consistent has helped."
A standout wide receiver at Saginaw H.S. in Saginaw, Mich., Arnett's resume consisted of a combined 83 receptions for 1,658 yards and 18 TDs between his junior and senior seasons.
Naturally confident, Arnett was ready for his opportunity the second he stepped on campus.
"I wanted to come in right away," Arnett said. "I was more anxious than anything. Sometimes, I get so anxious to the point that I mess up. I was just real anxious and when I finally got my chance, I responded."
The Vols practiced for a little more than two hours Tuesday morning at Haslam Field and stressed the importance of the basics heading into Saturday's SEC contest against Georgia.
"We had good spirit and good energy," Dooley said. "The real key to me in these games is learning and this is the step we need to make is learning how to play with great team spirit, great effort, great toughness and discipline and all the while maintain your composure for four quarters.
"Sustaining those kinds of intangibles and maintaining your composure when sometimes the game gets a little chaotic as they all do. We'll see if we've shown any improvement in that area."
While Tennessee's offense has been potent through four games, averaging 447.5 yards per outing, it will have its hands full against the Bulldogs.
"There are 11 big physical guys," Dooley said of Georgia's defense. "They're really big in the front and hard to move. They hit you and it hurts because they weigh a lot and they're explosive. They have very aggressive safeties that are active in the run and active on the ball. It's good team defense - good coaching and good scheme. We have our work cut out. They've given up one touchdown in three games."
One of those 11 big, physical guys is sophomore nose tackle Kwame Geathers, who checks in at 6-6 and 350 pounds.
"He's enormous," Dooley said. "He doesn't need any moves because his main move it to lift the center up and throw him into the quarterback. When you're that big and powerful, that's a hard technique to defend."
Sophomore wide receiver Rajion Neal, slowed this season by injury and position change, is settling into his role as a wide receiver as evidenced by his play against Buffalo last week.
The speedster scored his first career touchdown, a 20-yard end-around that got the ball rolling for UT's offense. He also caught a 14-yard pass.
"I think that energized him a little bit," Dooley said of Neal's play. "I hope it did. It's been tough on Rajion. He had an injury and going through a little bit of a position change. Both of those things can really impact your attitude.
"He's had a real good demeanor. He's working for the team and generally when your attitude gets right, your production falls in line."
That production will be needed again Saturday against Georgia. The Fayetteville, Ga., native, however, refuses to see this game as a matter of personal pride, but as a chance for his team to get its first SEC win of the season.
"It's a big game, but to me this is just another game," Neal said. "We have to take it seriously and prepare. It is more meaningful just because it is an SEC game. We have to go in ready (to play)."
SEC LEADER LEADING VOLS
When your sophomore quarterback leads the SEC in touchdown passes, passing efficiency, passing yards per game and total offense per game and ranks second in total passing yards, it's hard not to get excited.
"I have zero complaints," Dooley said. "Never as good as we want him to be but he's played well and now let's see how he can play against Georgia. I'm extremely pleased. It's hard to look at his numbers and be disappointed in what he's doing, but I don't want to get too excited. I just want to measure us week-to-week. We're doing good. Here are some things we need to work on. Let's see how we perform this week."
Of all the numbers though, Dooley is most pleased with his ability to limit turnovers. Bray has thrown 14 touchdown passes to just two interceptions through the first four games.
"I like the touchdown-to-interception ratio the best," Dooley said. "Before you learn how to win a game, you have to not lose it. The quickest way to lose a game is throw it to the other guy. He's done pretty good at that so far and then of course the accuracy is reflected in our third downs. That's a key. I hope he can continue the way he's going."
Last season Bray threw 12 interceptions, including seven in his last three games. The experience from those on-field mistakes, combined with a greater comfort level with the playbook, have helped teach him how to take care of the football a little more this year.
"Just knowing what is going on (is key)," Bray said. "Last year, some of the interceptions were just careless mistakes. I should have known that the guy was going to do what he did and not have thrown it to him."
Another area in which Bray has improved significantly is leadership. The first to admit that it wasn't his strong suit last year, Bray has worked hard to become more vocal in the huddle.
"As a quarterback, they are looking at you to see what you are going to do," Bray said. "If you just sit there and be quiet like I did last year, it is kind of hard to run the offense. If you are more vocal, it is a little easier to listen to. I'm still growing into it. I'm still learning new stuff about leadership every day, but if I can just keep improving on that we will be fine."
For Dooley, Bray's improved leadership traits and command of the team are as much about his work on the field as off of it.
"I think that comes with performance," Dooley said. "The more guys perform and the better they perform, the more apt they are to take a little more command of the team. When you play well, you automatically earn the respect of some others on the team. Naturally, people are going to listen to you a little bit more. I hope Tyler realizes how important the other 10 guys are for his performance. Therefore, when they're not getting it right, let's take a little ownership and get it right."