"Obviously, genetics has a lot to do with a guy that big," said Tennessee secondary coach Terry Joseph, whose troops will try to contain Green Saturday at Sanford Stadium in Athens.
As is the case with most college teams, Tennessee's cornerbacks tend to be in the 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-10 range. Thus, they'll be giving away six or more inches of height each time they try to cover Green one on one. That's a daunting challenge.
"We're going to try to put ourselves in good position to compete," Joseph said. "We've got some things in our scheme that we can account for him and hopefully we can get a few guys around him, put some pressure on the quarterback and force it to be a tight throw."
Even when Green is tightly covered he can be successful. A Colorado defensive back was in perfect position last Saturday, only to see Green leap high, twist acrobatically in mid-air and make a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch. ESPN pegged that No. 1 on its list of the weekend's Top 10 Plays. Naturally, Joseph has watched that tape many, many times.
"He's very long and athletic," the Vol aide said. "He runs well. He's probably the best receiver I've seen in quite awhile. He obviously has great ball skills. The 3 1/2 quarters he played against Colorado separates him from all the other guys in America."
Making that performance all the more mind-boggling was the fact it was Green's first game action of the year. The NCAA suspended him for Georgia's first four games as punishment for selling a jersey. Obviously, his return significantly upgrades a Bulldog team that has stumbled to a 1-4 start.
"Man, it makes them 10 notches better," Vol defensive end Chris Walker said. "I saw some of the highlights from their game against Colorado and saw that catch he made. I thought, 'He hasn't lost a step. He's missed four games but he hasn't lost a step.'"
Linebacker Nick Reveiz was similarly impressed by Green's performance vs. Colorado.
"A.J. Green is spectacular," Reveiz said. "One game back and he's already made the play of the season so far. Just how he catches the ball and goes up for the ball (shows) he's a great competitor. You can't replicate a guy like that. He's incredible."
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley is impressed, too, noting that Green is "probably the best player in college football.... The guy's unbelievable."
Although there are a number of ways to try and combat a player of Green's skills, none of them succeed on a regular basis.
- Assigning a bigger cornerback like Tennessee's Art Evans (6-0, 185) to line up opposite Green on every down doesn't work for long.
"No, because the way they move him around, you can't really plan for him to be in one spot," Joseph said. "So, even if we did try to match a certain person on him, they can motion him and shift him to different spots and get us in an uncomfortable matchup somewhere else. We're going to play our plan where he lands and we'll play him wherever he goes."
- Stuffing Green at the line of scrimmage can be effective at times but it's essentially a stop-gap measure.
"You don't want to stuff him at the line and lose him at the line," Joseph said. "We want to give ourselves a chance to win late in the down, so we're going to mix up some things we're going to do."
- Double-covering Green is an option, of course, but that tends to leave other receivers open. The Vols learned this lesson in 2008, when they limited Green to 53 receiving yards but allowed teammate Mohamed Massaquoi to catch 103 yards' worth of passes.
"At the end of the day, if you put too much attention on him, some other guys can get loose," Joseph said. "As a group, they're a talented group of receivers. They use their fullback and tailback in the screen game and they've got some tight ends that can stretch the field vertically, so we've got to account for all of them."
On a positive note, Tennessee's young defensive backs seem inspired by the prospect of facing the NCAA's premier receiver.
"Yeah, we've had a great week of practice," Joseph said. "Going against a guy like this is a challenge, and I think he has a chip on his shoulder because of what happened to him (the suspension) earlier this season.
"Obviously, we have some improvement we can do, too, so it'll be a good battle. We're excited."