Passing fancy

Minus the top three pass-catchers from 2010 - wideouts Gerald Jones (55 receptions) and Denarius Moore (47), plus tight end Luke Stocker (39) - Tennessee's air attack could take a backward step in 2011.

Then again, maybe not.

Rising sophomores Justin Hunter and Da' Rick Rogers have even more raw ability than the guys they're replacing, Jones and Moore. If the talented sophomores develop quickly, they could be an even better 1-2 punch this fall than Jones and Moore were last fall.

"Justin is amazing to have on the other side of the ball because he's going to attract all kinds of double-teams," Rogers said this week. "That's really going to open up all kinds of windows for other people to make plays in this offense."

Hunter, a 6-4, 188-pound speedster, will assume Moore's role as deep threat. Moore averaged a spectacular 20.9 yards per catch last fall but Hunter averaged a mind-boggling 25.9 yards on his 16 catches, with seven of the 16 grabs producing touchdowns.

Rogers will assume Jones' role as the guy who makes the tough catches over the middle. At 6-3 and 212 pounds, Rogers is much bigger than the 5-10, 197-pound Jones and he's faster, as well. Rogers caught just 11 balls last fall but averaged 15.2 yards per catch, whereas Jones caught 55 balls but averaged a mere 10.8 per catch.

"I bring the more physical game, the more down-low," Rogers said. "Justin takes the top off the defense (by driving the safeties deep). That opens up the run game, the middle of the field, opens up a lot of things."

After playing backup roles in 2010, Hunter and Rogers are eager to step into starting roles in 2011. They aren't ready quite yet but they're headed in that direction.

"We're excited more than anything," Rogers said, "but it's going to take time to replace a G-Jones and a Denarius Moore."

Based on last fall, Tennessee fans know what to expect from Hunter (16 catches, 25.9-yard average), Da'Rick Rogers (11 catches, 15.2 average) and rising junior Zach Rogers (14 catches, 14.8 average). Two more scholarship receivers may be ready to blossom into key contributors come fall, however.

Matt Milton, a 6-5, 205-pound sophomore, didn't catch a pass in 2010 but is becoming more relaxed and assertive this spring.

"Confidence with Matt has been the biggest thing," Da'Rick Rogers said. "Matt has come out this spring and looked just as good as any other receiver, so I've really been proud of him."

Milton played mostly quarterback at Mascoutah (Ill.) High School, so he has had to make a bigger adjustment than Tennessee's other receivers. He's steadily becoming more at home as a wideout, however.

"It's all about his level of comfort," Rogers said. "Everybody gets to the point (in terms of confidence) where they were in high school their senior year, so it just takes time to get there."

Apparently, fans also can expect good things from Vincent Dallas, a 5-11, 173-pound mid-term freshman from Ellenwood, Ga.

"Vincent is coming along good," Rogers said. "He's really grasping the offense more than I did when I first got here. He's on the right track to be right where he needs to be."

Even if the Vols aren't as strong at wide receiver in 2011 due to the departures of Jones and Moore, the air attack could be better. That's because the Big Orange should be much steadier at quarterback. After an up-and-down freshman year, Tyler Bray appears primed for a breakout sophomore season.

"He's more mature," Rogers said. "He's really stepped his maturity up. He's better in the huddle. He's taking control now. I think he's really coming into his own right now."

Bray has spent a lot of time since the 2010 season ended throwing with Hunter and Rogers. The three of them see considerable improvement in terms of developing their timing and chemistry.

"Oh, most definitely," Rogers said. "We throw almost every day, as much as we can. Whether it's real routes or just spot throws, we try to do something."

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