Tennessee hopes healthy WR Marquez North terrorizes defenses
Last season was supposed to be the year for Tennessee wide receiver Marquez North, a former four-star out of Charlotte, N.C., with elite speed and a chiseled, 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame who was expected to be the Vols’ top option in the passing game alongside Von Pearson, Pig Howard and Jason Croom.
Comfortable by the second half of his true freshman season in 2013, North began to understand how to get open in zone coverage and flexed his knowledge by posting nearly 500 yards receiving. Following a red-hot spring last April, North was emerging as the go-to big play threat in Butch Jones’ tempo-based scheme behind quarterback Justin Worley.
It wasn’t to be.
After a promising start to his sophomore campaign with 30 catches for 320 yards and four touchdowns in his first eight games, North was shut down for the season with a shoulder injury in November and didn’t have a hand in Tennessee’s four wins over its final five games to end the year.
Without North, the Vols scored 45 or more points in three of those victories after quarterback Joshua Dobbs was inserted into the starting lineup. Dobbs presented a new wrinkle with his ability to run and helped the Tennessee offense transform into one of the SEC’s most prolific down the stretch.
It’s paramount to Tennessee’s offensive success in 2015 that North’s ailing shoulder returns to full strength and he finds his way back to the player known as a reliable third-down target who can out-muscle opposing corners for the football. He’s a pass-catcher with NFL ability, a guy who can take some of the pressure off fellow returning wideouts when he is healthy.
North is capable of a 1,000-yard junior season with substantial targets, but he’ll have to build a relationship with Dobbs this spring since the pair’s last hook-up came during the fourth quarter of a loss to Alabama on Oct. 25. Dobbs is more familiar with other options at this point, notably Pearson and Howard.
A matchup nightmare for undersized defensive backs, North can stretch the field for the Vols and become more than a possession receiver. His acrobatic 39-yard reception in the closing minutes during his freshman year against South Carolina set-up a game-winning field goal that secured Tennessee’s first win over a ranked team under Jones.
It was a level of spectacular the Vols expected to see more of from North and perhaps will when he returns to full strength this spring.