Plenty of chemistry

Even after a three-game absence, Tennessee receivers coach Charlie Baggett expected to see Gerald Jones run good routes, get separation and catch the ball in practice this week. What he didn't expect to see was chemistry between Jones and quarterback Matt Simms.

That was a pleasant surprise ... and a spectacular bonus.

Simms and Jones showed considerable chemistry in Game 1, hooking up six times for 86 passing yards. When Jones missed the next three games due to a broken bone in his left hand, however, most observers figured their timing would be lost.

It wasn't. Asked after Wednesday's practice if he saw the chemistry between Simms and Jones returning, Baggett nodded emphatically.

"I do," he said. "I saw it this week when he came back. Normally, you'd be out of rhythm with a guy that hadn't been around for a little while but he and Matt had some passes out there today that I said to myself, 'Wow! That timing was really good.' I think they have developed some good chemistry together."

That could solve a colossal problem for the Vols, who have converted just 19 percent of their third-down tries this fall. Four of the six passes Jones caught in Game 1 were third-down receptions. He clearly was Simms' go-to receiver prior to his injury.

After watching Jones in practice last week and the first three days of this week, Baggett is convinced the senior receiver is as good as new.

"His legs are the No. 1 thing," Baggett said. "When you get a hand injury you have to keep your wind going and your stamina going, and I think he's done a good job of that. I just worry about his eye-hand coordination and him catching the football; he hasn't done it in awhile. But in practice this week he's looked good, so we're excited about getting Gerald back."

Whenever a receiver has a hand injury, there is a concern that he'll favor the injured hand once he returns to action. Baggett has seen no signs of that in Jones' case.

"With his hand injury the way it is, I don't think it'll affect him at all," the Vol aide said. "I think he's completely healed."

Jones led Tennessee with 46 catches last fall and projected to be the bell cow of the receiving corps again this fall. Baggett believes Jones' return provides a lot more than just another weapon, however.

"Leadership," the coach said. "He's a senior. He's been around. One of the good things about having him out was that he was a coach on the field with me. But I'd rather have him in his role than my role."

Jones is not a rah-rah type but he will speak up when the need arises. Most of his leadership, however, is visual rather than vocal.

"One of the things he's done is, he leads the team and he sets an example by what he does on the field," Baggett said. "That's the biggest thing."

While Jones was sidelined, Tennessee's receiving corps consisted of one senior (Denarius Moore), one sophomore (Zach Rogers) and two true freshmen (Justin Hunter, Da' Rick Rogers). Jones' return appears to be providing a steadying influence for the young pups.

"No question," Baggett said. "They look up to him. They can see that he knows how to do things. He's been there before and done it, and I think they've learned quite a bit from him."

Gerald Jones set a tone earlier this week by expressing his eagerness to face LSU's Patrick Peterson, arguably the finest cornerback in college football. That's a tall order but Baggett figures Jones and his fellow wideouts will rise to the challenge.

"I think it's the competitive nature of some athletes that, when they do go up against great athletes, it does bring out the best in them," the Vol aide said. "I hope that's what happens this week because he is a great player."

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