Young Vol WRs thrown into fire
Posted: Thursday, September 9, 2010 6:03 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee’s young wide receivers are going to have quickly learn on the job.
With seniors Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore nursing injuries, sophomore Zach Rogers and true freshmen Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter will see plenty of playing time against seventh-ranked Oregon
“It’s not a question of, ‘Are they ready?’ They better be ready,” quarterback Matt Simms said. “It’s going to be tough on them. There’s going to be a lot asked of them.”
Moore shed his walking boot and practiced for the first time Wednesday, but coach Derek Dooley said he wasn’t sure yet how much the Tatum, Texas, native would be able to play against the Ducks (1-0). Jones is recovering from surgery on a broken bone in his left hand.
That means the young receivers will need to fill in for a pair of receivers who have a combined 162 catches and 1,289 yards between them. Jones has led the team in receiving for two seasons, while Moore’s seven touchdowns in 2009 led the Vols (1-0).
By comparison, Zach Rogers has four career catches for 26 yards, and Da’Rick Rogers made his first reception, a nine-yard catch, last week in Tennessee’s 50-0 win over Tennessee-Martin. Hunter played in last weeks’ game, but didn’t catch a pass.
“They didn’t really have a lot of opportunity,” coach Derek Dooley said. “Da’Rick caught a pass, which is always good to get that first one under your belt. He looked calm and it seemed very simple, but he looked good doing it.”
He’ll have to do more than just look good catching passes.
The young receivers are also tasked with blocking on running plays, something they likely didn’t do much of at the high school level.
So far, they’ve appeared willing to do so, Dooley said.
“The first thing you have to do as wideout is a willingness to want to block,” he said. “When you come out of high school and you think wide receiver, you think, ‘Throw me the ball and let me make some plays.’ But understanding the importance of (blocking) as it relates to the team’s success is the first hurdle, and I think we’ve cleared that with all our young guys.”
Zach Rogers, who will fill in at Jones’ spot, has caught the coach’s eyes with his hard work, speed, good hands and willingness to block.
Now the soft-spoken 6-foot Nashville native is working on his leadership skills a bit too.
“I kind of like to be in the shadows,” Rogers said. I’m not a very outgoing guy. I’ve tried to step up this year. I was a little quiet and intimidated coming around these guys last year, and not being sure what to do. But I’m trying to step out of it this year and be a leader for those young guys.”
The inexperience goes well beyond wide receiver. Simms, tailback Tauren Poole and at least four offensive linemen will be making their second career start Saturday.
That doesn’t make the Vols any less dangerous, according to Oregon coach Chip Kelley.
“They’re very athletic,” Kelly said. “Both running backs, Poole and (David) Oku, are really, really tough competitors. I have always thought (Simms) was a tremendous quarterback. Really played well in his opener. They’re big on the offensive line. We expect a battle.”
For his part, Simms refuses to let the receivers head into Saturday without a little extra drilling. He’s not worried about his timing with the new receivers, but he has been spending a little extra time during practice lining everyone up and going over plays.
“Probably the biggest concern is making sure everyone’s aligned right and knowing what to do on every play. That’s going to be most crucial for guys like Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers, who haven’t had a whole lot of experience out there in a game situation to keep their cool and do the right things when 100,000 people are watching.”