Student teacher

One Tennessee receiver is still in the classroom but, figuratively speaking, he's sitting at the big desk now.

After performing well as true freshmen last fall, Justin Hunter and classmate Da' Rick Rogers suddenly find themselves qualifying as "veterans" now that the departure of 2010 seniors Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore has left the Vols with a brutally young wideout corps.

"We're the teachers now, instead of the students," Hunter said following Wednesday's second spring practice.

Actually, "student teachers" might be a better job description. Like those college seniors who instruct high schoolers in working toward a teaching certificate, Hunter and Rogers are guiding others while still learning themselves. Now that Jones and Moore have exhausted their eligibility, Hunter is Tennessee's top returning receiver, even though he caught just 16 balls last season. That makes him something of a role model for mid-term freshman Vincent Dallas. Hunter accepts the leadership role but sometimes forgets he has inherited it.

"The other day me and Da'Rick was sitting on the sidelines," he recalled sheepishly, "thinking Gerald and D-Mo (Denarius Moore) was going to be in the game."

Even after just two no-pads workouts, Hunter thinks Dallas exhibits a lot of potential.

"I think Dallas is a real good slot receiver," Hunter said. "I think he's going to make a big impact this year, too."

Basically, receivers coach Charlie Baggett needs impact from every player at his disposal. Tennessee has just five scholarship wideouts this spring - rising junior Zach Rogers, rising sophomores Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers and Matt Milton, plus freshman Dallas.

"It's time to step up as a young group of receivers," Hunter conceded, "so Coach depends on us to do that."

All of Tennessee's receivers run fast, jump high and catch the ball well. The area that needs considerable work is their route-running.

"I think so," Hunter said. "Since we're so young we have to develop as receivers, so they've got us practicing every day on that."

Hunter averaged an eye-popping 25.9 yards per catch last season, largely because he ran mostly go routes. This season he's expanding his repertoire to include short and intermediate routes. Before he can run them, though, he has to learn them. That will be Baggett's major emphasis this spring.

"Basically, we're working on short routes, speed off the ball and technique," Hunter said.

Mastering the short and intermediate routes is particularly crucial for Hunter, who projects to be the focal point of opposing defenses come fall.

"Most of the teams are going to gameplan me trying to stop the deep ball," he conceded. "I caught a lot of the shorter routes yesterday and today, so I think it's coming along good."

Hunter relied almost solely on his speed and jumping ability to make plays last fall. Now that he'll be running more than go routes, he'll need to learn all of the formations and all of the plays.

"Yeah, I've got to pay attention now," he said with a laugh, "and work on my techniques, too."

He arrived at Tennessee as a frail-looking 6-4, 180-pounder. Thanks to new strength coach Ron McKeefery, Hunter has added some much-need bulk without losing any of his blazing speed.

"The three weeks we had with Coach Mac I put on eight pounds," Hunter said. "And I think I got faster. I ran a 4.42 (in the 40-yard dash), so I think he helped us out a lot."

Although he debuted with 415 receiving yards as a true freshman last fall, Hunter has his sights set much higher for 2011.

"I want to make All-SEC," he said. "I want to have at least 800 yards. I want to double what I had last year ... with more catches, too. And I want to get at least 35 percent of the short routes thrown to me."


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