Frosh in a hurry

Tennessee's offense desperately needs for its talented freshman wideouts to grow up fast, and their position coach sees signs of that happening.

Wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett was pleased when Justin Hunter posted his first collegiate catch by outbattling a well-positioned defensive back for a 31-yard reception in Game 2 vs. Oregon. Hunter then posted his first collegiate touchdown a week later by reeling in a 35-yard scoring pass in Game 3 vs. Florida.

"That gives you tremendous confidence, when a kid can make a play like that one (vs. Oregon) for his first catch in college," Baggett said. "Then he came back and made a touchdown catch in the next game. I think it was very big."

Hunter, a 6-4, 184-pounder from Virginia Beach, has caught four passes for 91 yards through the first three games. His 22.8 yards-per-catch average is tops among all Tennessee players.

Fellow freshman Da' Rick Rogers, rated a 5-star prospect as a senior at Calhoun (Ga.) High School, is off to a slower start with just one catch for nine yards to date. The 6-3, 215-pounder shows signs that he may be on the verge of a breakout, however.

"I see it in practice," Baggett said. "He's preparing better. He's understanding what we're doing better. Then when we get in games he's executing better."

Rogers exhibited his running skills in Game 2 vs. Oregon by making a 21-yard dash on an end-around. Perhaps he'll exhibit his receiving skills this weekend in Game 4 vs. UAB.

"The more he gets into the passing game the better he'll do," Baggett said. "I'm pleased with him also."

With senior receiver Gerald Jones still sidelined by a hand injury, Tennessee is relying heavily on Hunter and Rogers to pick up some slack. Both are progressing steadily.

"I think they're coming along real good," Baggett said. "It's tough on freshmen to come in and play early. It's like rookies in the NFL. Every level you go to, the first year is hard. I'm pleased with their progress but they still have a ways to go yet. I think they're improving and I think they're going to be pretty good."

For a receiver, the adjustment from playing high school ball to playing college ball is like the adjustment from riding a bicycle to driving a car. There's really no comparison.

"In high school you can freelance and do a lot more things," Baggett said. "Another thing that's tough on them is the technical aspect of route running and reading defenses. A lot of times in high school you could just run down the field, run whatever you want to and get open. In this league you can't do that. It's going to be even tougher when they get to the next level."

Some position coaches slow the pace in meetings and in practices so freshmen can keep up. Not Charlie Baggett. He has pushed Hunter and Rogers from Day One.

"I don't think you slow things down," the coach said. "What you do is throw it all at 'em and see what sticks, then come back and refine it and give 'em a few less things. I think in the beginning you cover the whole gamut of things - give them the experience of seeing it - then you narrow it down a little bit."

With so much attention focused on the two flashy freshmen, sophomore wideout Zach Rogers has been largely overlooked. That's unfortunate because he is quietly having a strong September. With eight receptions for 105 yards, he ranks second on the team behind senior Denarius Moore (nine catches, 152 yards).

"We're pleased with Zach," Baggett said. "Zach is a steady player. He can run, catches the ball well, runs good routes. And he's got experience, which really helps. He played a year ago in a lot of pressure-packed situations and did well, and that carries over to this year."

That sounds a bit odd ... hearing a sophomore referred to as an experienced guy.

"It does," Baggett said with a laugh. "But with all these young kids we've got around here, a guy with one year of experience is like a veteran to us."


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