Asked this week how he is being coached differently since Hunter's injury, DeAnthony Arnett laughed and replied: "More strict. More yelling."
The increased decibel level isn't surprising, though. The 6-foot, 170-pound rookie understands that a whole lot more is expected of him now that the Vols' chief offensive weapon is sidelined.
"I just know I have to step up more; I have to take practice more seriously," Arnett said. "I don't want to be treated like a freshman no more. I try to tell the coaches that all the time. They say they're not going to treat me like a freshman and they expect me to step my level of play up."
So far, so good. Arnett's stats for the seven quarters since Hunter was hurt show 11 catches, 86 yards and two touchdowns.
"I think I responded well," he said. "I could've did a lot better, as far as blocking and getting more depth on my routes and stuff like that. But, other than that, I think I did real good."
Tennessee's offensive coordinator thinks so, too.
"DeAnthony's doing fine; he just needs to continue to progress," Jim Chaney said. "His head swims every Tuesday when we put a bunch of new plays in but he's learning how to handle that."
Arnett's remarkable quickness and agility make him a tough cover for the safeties and linebackers he generally faces on short and intermediate routes.
"I think he's a slot receiver all the way," Chaney said. "He can go in there, mix around and get open on those slot routes. He's got good hands and a great attitude. He's going to be a good player here."
Like Tennessee's fans, Arnett held his breath when Hunter crumpled to the turf at Florida Field on Sept. 17.
"As soon as I seen him go down, I was like, 'I hope he gets back up,'" the freshman recalled.
When Hunter limped off the field, however, Arnett's reaction was nothing like that of the fans. Whereas they went into shock, he went into action.
|Tennessee freshman DeAnthony Arnett (13) is congratulated after a touchdown by coach Derek Dooley.|
"Coach looked at me and said, 'Put your helmet on. It's time to go,'" Arnett recalled. "I was ready."
Apparently so. He caught a team-high eight passes that afternoon for 59 yards. The performance wasn't enough to lift the Vols to victory but it was enough to show why he was rated a 4-star prospect as a senior at Saginaw (Mich.) High School one year ago. He followed with a three-catch, two-TD effort in Game 4 versus Buffalo last Saturday.
Although Arnett seems to be progressing rapidly, he says his transition to college ball has not been nearly as smooth as it may have appeared.
"It's definitely been more (of a transition) with all of the plays and all of the shifts," he said. "It's been a lot, and it's been tough on me, especially the first two games and all through training camp."
Like most freshmen, Arnett was shocked by the speed of the college game. He was formally introduced to it in Game 3 at Florida.
"The speed was the biggest thing from the linebackers," he recalled. "When I seen how fast the linebackers were, how big they were and how hard they were hitting, I was like, 'They're for real!'"
Arnett attended summer school last June and gradually memorized his playbook. When he showed up for preseason camp in August, however, he was in for a surprise. The coaches wanted him to learn another position.
"I was like, 'Oh, man,'" he recalled. "My mind was all over the place."
Arnett says he now has "all my plays down pat," but must continue learning the nuances of Tennessee's offensive scheme.
Learning to block has been a major challenge for the wiry Arnett, who played quarterback/wide receiver in high school and never had to concern himself with shielding a defender.
"That's been probably the toughest part — blocking," he conceded.
As perhaps the most celebrated member of Tennessee's 2011 signing class, Arnett was eager to live up to his hype. Naturally, scarcely playing in Games 1 and 2 was a disappointment.
"I wanted to come in right away," he said. "I was more anxious than anything. Sometimes I get so anxious to the point where I mess up. I was real anxious but when I got my chance I responded."
Indeed. Arnett is looking awfully comfortable as a slot receiver these days, even though the position is new to him.
"The slot is easier because you've got a linebacker or a safety coming over the top," he said. "It's easier to get get open with them being so far back. They're playing 10 yards off of you, so if I'm running an out route, it's easy money as we call it."