Shadow man

Stuck in the shadow of teammates Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers is a Tennessee wide receiver who casts a pretty long shadow himself.

Matt Milton — all 6-feet-5 and 210 pounds of him — flashed a hint of his potential in Saturday night's scrimmage by catching four balls for 63 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown reception.

Maybe, just maybe, the imposing sophomore is about to blossom into the big-play threat Tennessee envisioned when it signed him out of Mascoutah (Ill.) High School two years ago. Coming off an impressive scrimmage performance, he's understandably excited.

"It feels really good," he said this week. "We've got a lot of receivers and a lot of guys trying to learn things, so I've just been out there trying to make plays for the coaches and make plays for the team."

Because he played mostly quarterback in high school, Milton is still learning the nuances of the receiver position. Progress has been slow at times.

"The key is just playing faster," he said. "I have to play a lot faster. After trying to learn the offense and everything, I would catch myself cruising ... thinking while I'm running. Now it's all about speed - running my routes fast and getting lined up faster."

Interestingly enough, the guy helping Milton the most is the guy he's competing with for the No. 3 receiver spot.

"Zach Rogers has really helped me," Milton said. "Zach has had a great camp. Zach knows everything. When we're stuck, we go to him anyway. He's helping me learn everything and how to put it on the field."

Milton also is battling for playing time with heralded freshmen DeAnthony Arnett and Vincent Dallas. Both are raw but gifted, yet Milton does not view them as rivals.

"I think I approach it a little bit different than some people," he said. "Some people approach it as competition. I approach it as trying to help them out. I know the offense now, and they don't. They've got a lot of ability, so I approach it as I've got to do my job to help them get better. They need a lot of the stuff that we needed when we came in but they've got all the stuff you can't coach - the speed and the hands and all of that."

Milton played so sparingly as a freshman last fall that he did not record a catch. Now that 2010 seniors Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore are gone, however, he could play a prominent role in Tennessee's offensive scheme.

"It's helped me a lot because back when they were here I didn't get a lot of reps," Milton said of Jones and Moore. "When I was in there it was almost foreign sometimes. With them gone, it's a good amount of pressure on us because you have to make plays now and have to know what you're doing."

Because he threw the ball more than he caught it in high school, Milton has struggled to develop dependable hands.

"At quarterback, you're not used to it coming like that, so I've worked on catching tennis balls and running routes," he said. "People think you just run the route that's on the paper but it depends on what the DBs are doing."

Asked how his hands are coming along, Milton broke into a big grin.

"Oh, the hands are good," he said. "The hands are great."

The reason for the improvement couldn't be simpler.

"Catching balls," he said. "In practice I go with the ones sometimes and I go with the twos sometimes. Repetition ... the more balls come the more comfortable I feel catching 'em."

Milton seemed tentative and unsure of himself as a freshman. He appears to be more comfortable and optimistic these days.

"I feel way more confident," he said. "Now I know what I can do. I know I have ability, so it's easier for me."

Receivers coach Charlie Baggett has noticed. He sees Milton contributing significantly this fall.

"Matt's coming along," the Vol aide said. "Matt had a lot to learn but he's grown up and matured. I expect him to be in the mix for some serious playing time."


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