Published February 13, 2012 - 8:14am
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At this time last year, Arkansas was looking at what could be wide receiver U for the 2011 season. With Joe Adams, Cobi Hamilton, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright all returning (along with the starting quarterback), there were many reasons for optimism. No doubt Arkansas was the class of the conference in the wide receiver department.
However, there’s a new player in town this year in the Tennessee Vols.
Tennessee has always had good receivers from way back in the 90’s with all their great quarterbacks – guys like Peerless Price, Jeremaine Copeland, Carl Pickens, Marcus Nash and Joey Kent. But this coming 2012 season will be right up there with all the hype and optimism in wide receivers in years past.
Tennessee will have three all-SEC-type receivers going out on any given pass play in Da’Rick Rogers, Justin Hunter and new JUCO commit – and the No.1-rated JUCO player in the country – Cordarrelle Patterson.
Now, I must admit, before National Signing Day, Tennessee did have some concerns at wide receiver, with Rogers’ discipline problems, Hunter returning from an ACL injury and DeAnthony Arnett deciding to transfer. However, with the addition of Patterson, Tennessee has a little room for comfort.
Da’Rick Rogers, the 6’3” and 215lb rising junior from Calhoun, Georgia, is coming off a spectacular 2011 season that saw him catch 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns. Rogers is big, physical and very athletic. He is physical off the line of scrimmage, and he has deceptive speed in the open field to outrun his man to the checkerboard. There are concerns, however, about his behavior on the team, and it was previously rumored that Derek Dooley had suspended Rogers after the season. However, those reports have turned to out to be just that, a rumor. With another offseason to train and get better, Rogers will be a tough one to handle on the field as likely the No. 2 option behind Justin Hunter.
Justin Hunter, the 6’4” and 215lb rising junior from Virginia Beach, Virginia, looks to be one of the best pure wide receivers in the SEC. Hunter already has great size at 6’4”, but he can really go get the football in the air from the quarterback. He can take it away from a shorter defensive back, and he’s a matchup nightmare for any defensive coordinator game planning against him. Hunter was unfortunately hurt on his first catch in the third game of the year in Gainesville. Hunter went up to catch the football, and he came down nastily on his knee, thus resulting in a season-ending knee injury. If Hunter can return strong with a surgically repaired knee, he should be on his way to have a tremendous junior season. He’s a surefire first round selection if he can come back strong and stay healthy. Through two weeks last year, Hunter caught 17 balls for 314 yards and two touchdowns. He was on pace for a magical 2011 season before the injury.
Tennessee’s offense would be explosive with just Hunter and Rogers; however there’s a new cat in town in JUCO transfer Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson’s not lacking in size, either. He stands 6’4” and 205lbs, and he will yet again be another matchup nightmare for SEC defenses. Patterson should be the cherry on top for a very talented Tennessee wide receiver corps.
With the addition of Patterson, Tennessee has three all-SEC caliber receivers running routes on any given play.
Also, returning wide receiver Zach Rogers should be able to make plays in the slot with these three guys running routes on the outside. Rogers certainly didn’t have a good year, but he has all the tools be effective in the slot – a Wes Welker-type if you will. I’m by no means comparing Rogers to Welker talent-wise, but he could have a major role if he can pick up his game.
Not only did Tennessee get the addition of Patterson to the group, but the Vols also picked up three more receivers in this year’s class in Drae Bowles, Jason Croom and Alton “Pig” Howard. Bowles was a big-time addition and needs to be a pattern moving forward, because Bowles was an in-state prospect. The Vols have to keep the good players home.
The Key To It All
Of course, the key to everything is staying healthy. However, the key to next year’s team will be the health of quarterback Tyler Bray. He’s the key to a great season for Tennessee. With a worse than average running game – and I’m not sure it’s going to magically turn around for the Vols – Bray might have to throw the ball on average 35 times a game to win big football games. That is, of course, if the running game doesn’t turn around quickly.
Bray is a returning junior, and his season was hampered by a thumb injury he suffered against Georgia late in the game. Bray, in seven games, threw for 1,983 yards and 17 touchdowns. He can make any throw on the football field because of his arm strength and his pocket awareness. Yes, he is a little cocky, but I’m okay with confidence on the field, especially if he gets it done. And Bray, for the most part, got it done when he was healthy a year ago.
With all those dynamic receivers on the football field for Tennessee next year, quarterback Tyler Bray should have a field day picking his poison. However, his health is of utmost importance for Tennessee in 2012.