Time to blossom

Like flowers, freshman football players mature at different rates. That being the case, this weekend would be an ideal time for Tennessee's freshman wide receivers to blossom.

Senior receiver Gerald Jones, the leading pass receiver of 2009, remains sidelined by a broken bone in his hand. Zach Rogers, who led the Vols with 45 receiving yards last weekend vs. Oregon, is banged up. That leaves the Big Orange with four healthy options for Saturday's game against 10th-ranked Florida - senior Denarius Moore, plus freshmen Justin Hunter, Da' Rick Rogers and Matt Milton.

Given the fact Vol tailback Tauren Poole is the SEC's leading rusher at 136 yards per game, it's a safe bet that the Gators will crowd the line of scrimmage to stop the run Saturday afternoon. The only way Tennessee can discourage this tactic is by making some plays in the passing game. A potent aerial attack will take a lot of pressure off of Poole.

"It's definitely going to be progressive when we get the passing game going," Poole said this week. "We've got David (Oku) ... we've got Rajion (Neal) ... we've got multiple backs that can do well in this offense. As we continue to get better as backs and everything starts opening up for us, it'll be even greater success for this offense."

Jones could be back in time for Game 4 vs. UAB. In the meantime, the best bet for progress in the passing game this week is for one or two of the freshman wideouts to step up. Poole sees signs of that happening.

"I saw a glimpse of it when Justin Hunter went up and got the ball (for a 31-yard gain) against Oregon," Poole said. "Now we've got to try to get him the ball. He's a playmaker, and I know he wants the ball. I know he has a passion for the receiver position. He continues to do it in practice, continues practicing better. He just needs to continue working on his craft."

Derek Dooley says the three freshmen performed well in Game 2, even though the only catch they contributed was Hunter's 31-yard grab.

"They did good," the Vols head man said. "We didn't give them a lot of chances to make plays. We've got to give them some more opportunities to do some things. I mean, they did some freshmen things out there that you would expect, but it didn't really impact the game one way or another."

Although the rookie receivers are still getting familiar with the playbook, they generally performed their assignments correctly.

"They were fine," Dooley said. "You know we try to keep it pretty simple for them. We haven't put too much on them."

Vol coaches put considerably more on junior quarterback Matt Simms in the Oregon game. He responded well for 38 minutes, completing 11 of his first 20 passes for 143 yards as the Vols forged a 13-13 tie. He faded thereafter, however, going 4 of 9 for eight yards and throwing a pick-six interception as Oregon outscored UT 35-0 during the game's final 22 minutes.

If you discount Hunter's 31-yard catch on the final play of the first quarter and a 31-yard grab by Zach Rogers midway through the third quarter, Tennessee managed just 13 completions and 89 yards on its other 27 pass attempts. The obvious question: What went wrong?

"It was a lot of things," Dooley said. "Protections. It was the quarterback. It was receivers. We hit Justin on a big play, we hit Zach on a big play down there. That was it. We had two good plays and we needed about four or five."


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