Finding their niche

To contribute to Tennessee's offense, you don't have to be good at everything. You just have to be good at something.

That's why freshman receivers Vincent Dallas and DeAnthony Arnett are likely to have immediate impact this fall. They're far from being well-rounded college wideouts but each has a gift that the Vols can exploit ... just as they took full advantage of the gifts of Justin Hunter and Da' Rick Rogers one year ago.

The 6-foot-4, 172-pound Hunter showed a knack for catching the deep ball, so Tennessee utilized him in ways that maximized this strength. As a result, he averaged a mind-boggling 25.9 yards per catch with seven of his 16 receptions producing touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the 6-3, 215-pound Rogers exhibited a knack for running the ball, so Tennessee used him on an assortment of end-arounds and reverses. As a result, he got more touches on handoffs (16) than receptions (11) and wound up averaging 7.3 yards per carry — best among Vols with at least 10 rushes.

Now Tennessee's staff must find limited roles this fall that exploit what Arnett and Dallas do well, just as it found limited roles last fall that exploited what Hunter and Rogers did well.

"I think that's good coaching," Vol receivers coach Charlie Baggett said, flashing a soft grin. "You find what they do well and use them in limited situations, so they take what they do well and get in there and do it. Hopefully, we'll be able to find out what DeAnthony and Vincent do, and try to get them in also."

Baggett, who has 33 years' experience coaching receivers at the pro and college levels, knows better than to expect immediate impact from a first-year wideout.

"I've been around for a long time, and I've seen guys that were highly hyped and it didn't pan out for them," he said. "They don't measure up to what you thought they'd be. But I've learned over the years that you can't judge freshmen early.

Tennessee wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett directs players during preseason camp.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

"I remember when I was a freshman: You're awed by a situation like this — all these guys who already have been here, all of these facilities and all of this training that you do. They aren't used to it, so it takes some time to get going."

Some fans give up on a player if he fails to make a mark as a freshman. Baggett finds this approach really frustrating.

"That's one of my pet peeves," he said. "I never say whether a guy can play or he can't early in his career. These two guys (Arnett, Dallas) I can see, based on my experience, that they do have talent."

Vol teammates can see it, as well. They believe Arnett and Dallas are going to be quality players in time.

"In the summer, during 7-on-7 and individual workouts, they got it down," junior wideout Zach Rogers said. "They've come in here ready to play. They run great routes and they've got great hands. Once they grasp the playbook they'll be ready to roll.

"Our offense is kind of conceptual. We're trying to move them around a little bit. Once they get the concepts down, they'll be able to move in and out, wherever they need to.

"We recruited 'em for a reason. They're going to be great players."

Senior quarterback Matt Simms is impressed, too, although he concedes that Arnett and Dallas still have much to learn.

"They're pretty good," Simms said. "They're pretty athletic with a lot of speed. We just need to make them run in the right spots now. There's a lot of great talent, so they're going to be some good players for us."

Arnett (6-0, 175) had a 15-yard reception in Saturday's final preseason scrimmage. Dallas (5-11, 185) had two grabs for 12 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown catch.

"I think that's his first touchdown in a scrimmage, so he's going to have all of the confidence now," sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray said of Dallas. "He probably will relax and won't think as much."

Dallas graduated early from Cedar Grove High in Ellenwood, Ga., and participated in Tennessee's spring practice. That gave him a significant head start over Arnett, who joined the Vols this summer after a standout career in Saginaw, Mich.

"Vincent is ahead of DeAnthony because he was here in the spring and knows what to do," Baggett said. "He's coming along good. DeAnthony's swimming right now. He's young but they've both got a lot of talent."

Baggett prefers to let freshmen develop slowly but that may not be an option this fall. Tennessee has just six scholarship wide receivers — Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers, Zach Rogers, Matt Milton, Arnett and Dallas — plus two newly converted cornerbacks in Anthony Anderson and Nyshier Oliver. Given the glaring lack of proven depth at wideout, Arnett and Dallas may be forced to grow up quickly.

"It's hard for a freshman to come in and play right away but if they prove they can do it through practices and scrimmages, then we'll have enough confidence to put them in the game and let them get their feet wet," Baggett said. "We'll bring 'em along as fast as we think we should but it's hard."

DeAnthony Arnett


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