Our summer UT preview series continues today with a look at the Vols receiving corps. More specifically, two guys that are going to present a huge challenge for NC State's defense.
Injuries in key places hurt Tennessee's continuity on the offensive side of the ball in 2011--most notably, Tyler Bray broke a thumb early in October. The Vols also lost wide receiver Justin Hunter--who appeared to be on the way to a huge season--to a torn ACL in September. How quickly Hunter is able to re-acclimate to live action this fall won't necessarily be a key to a successful season for Tennessee, but a seamless reintroduction will be crucial if Tennessee is going to be one of those surprise teams that some seem to think it can be.
Hunter's big play abilities seem clear enough given his line as a true freshman in 2010: he caught 16 passes for 415 yards (25.9 yds/catch) and seven touchdowns. Seven TDs on 16 catches. Talk about grab-go-boom. So he was a human incendiary device during his true freshman season and was on his way to establishing himself as a go-to threat early in his sophomore season, and then his progress was halted by major injury.
He had this to say after a scrimmage this spring:
"I know I can go out there without hurting, so I hope to see that next week it feels the same. I feel good about how today went. I just went out there and played, and I was excited to be out here. I had some nerves at the beginning of the scrimmage just to see how I would do, but I just didn't think about it and played good."
You can bet those concerns will return when the lights go on in the Georgia Dome, and everybody will be wondering if Justin Hunter is the same guy he was before his knee betrayed him.
The guy on the other side of the field is plenty capable of picking up the slack, though. Da'Rick Rogers caught 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011, which earned him an All-SEC selection. Like Hunter, Rogers saw the field as a true freshman in 2010 but only caught 11 passes, but that early experience--not to mention his big time talent--helped him turn the corner as a sophomore.
Both Rogers and Hunter have great physical tools, and they were among the best WRs in the class of 2010. Rivals ranked Rogers as the No. 9 overall prospect that year, while Hunter was the No. 75 overall player in the class. Rogers is listed at 6-3, 208, while Hunter is listed at 6-4, 200. No lack for size or speed here.
Sammy Watkins is the best wide receiver we'll see in 2012, but is there a better tandem than the one Tennessee's going to throw at us in week one? I'm doubting it.
It's not what one would call a huge concern if Rogers and Hunter are healthy, but nobody really emerged in Hunter's absence last season, and I'm not sure the Vols know who is going to catch passes on a consistent basis beyond the top two guys. Maybe the third option is tight end Mychal Rivera, who finished second on the team with 29 receptions in 2011.
Zach Rogers (14 rec., 189 yards in 2011) and Vincent Dallas (3 rec., 37 yards in 2011) are the reserves at WR listed on the spring organizational chart.
But one step at a time. NC State's got to figure out the best way to address the top two guys first.