Vols restock at wide receiver

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Transitioning from coaching the quarterbacks to the wide receivers has been seamless thus far for Tennessee assistant coach Darin Hinshaw.

Two reasons contribute to that statement: 1. The Volunteers haven't played a game since the move, 2. The wide receivers are the most talented unit on The Hill.

Things can change in a heartbeat and all of Big Orange Country has experienced that over the last several years with some program-changing events. One happened early last season with the season-ending injury to budding wide receiver Justin Hunter.

Hinshaw trailed off before pointing to last September when Hunter tore his anterior cruciate ligament at Florida: "We can't have one guy go down and our offense goes…"

"I'm sorry but you can go take every offense in the SEC and go take away their best receiver and go take away their quarterback and they're not going to be as good. I don't know if you can technically get that done, but we're going to try to have depth now to where we have more of a rotation and different things like that. We've got a lot of great, young players coming in.

Look for Tennessee to get the ball to Alton 'Pig' Howard in space plenty during his career in Knoxville.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
"We've got some young guys that we're going to continue to get out there, and they've got to play for us next year."

Steps were taken with the 2012 signing class to make sure Tennessee isn't "held hostage" by any one player again, meaning if there's an injury, a capable teammate must fill the void.

Not only did the Vols ink two-time JUCO All-American Cordarrelle Patterson and local product Cody Blanc, but they also signed three prep All-Americans in Drae Bowles, Jason Croom and Alton Howard that joined the squad this summer.

Bowles, who played his high school ball at Jackson (Tenn.) Christian before becoming a U.S. Army All-American, was a two-time All-State selection that tallied 171 catches for 2,569 yards and 23 touchdowns in his prep career.

Jackson Christian spread out opposing defenses with its passing game early in Bowles' career before moving to a run-oriented style, which didn't deter the Vols from going hard after him.

"Well, when you look at Drae as a junior, and what he did as a junior, he had a quarterback I think signed Div. II who was a pretty talented guy. So, he was getting a lot more of what we do here as a junior. Senior year it changed. He was great. He did everything the coach asked him to do, but when you go Triple Option, it's not as fun at receiver. We understood that going into it, and he did whatever that coach wanted to do," said Hinshaw, who coached wide receivers early in his career at Memphis under head coach Tommy West.

"It's going to be a transition, but he'll come around. He's a real talented receiver."

The multi-dimensional Howard has an opportunity to contribute his first fall on campus with his explosive skills and the terror he imposes upon defenders while in space.

Drae Bowles capped a solid career in Jackson, Tenn., by participating as a U.S. Army All-American.
(Kevin Carden/FOX Sports Next)
The Edgewater (Fla.) High School standout received double coverage often his senior year but wound up with 36 receptions for 691 yards (19.2) and six touchdowns. He also carried the rock 55 times for 392 yards (7.13 avg.) with three scores.

"We're going to do some different things with Pig Howard; he's special," Hinshaw said. "He can catch the football. You can hand him the football. He can throw the football. He can do a lot of things.

"He's fast, he's extremely fast and in this league, speed kills. And, that's why we're real excited about Pig Howard and all the different ways we're going to be able to use him. He's got return ability.

"You want to get Pig Howard the ball and go watch him and see what he can do."

Before he started getting defenses' attention, Howard lit up folks, totaling 3,594 yards his junior and sophomore seasons combined between the air and ground.

Croom is one of the more imposing wide receivers to be hauled in by any Vol coaching staff in recent history. At 6-feet-5, 220 pounds, the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl representative caught 34 balls for 688 yards and 10 TDs his final year at Norcross (Ga.) High under coach Keith Maloof.

"When you watch him play basketball — I got to see him play basketball — he's extremely powerful," Hinshaw said. "He's got to work on his jumpshot but the thing about Jason is that Jason has really good speed and really good hands, really good catching ability and can use those limbs.

"At Memphis, I had a kid that was 6-foot-9 that was 228 pounds — Carlos Singleton. He reminds me a little bit of Carlos and Carlos was an unbelievable player. If you play too high when you're tall, these DBs in this league will be able to put their hands all over you. You've got to learn to play low and be able to come off the ball and be able to get underneath people's pads. His blocking ability is unbelievable. Then, all the different things and all the different ways we're going to be able to use him on the jump balls, all those kind of things. He's very physical."

Tennessee kicks off against North Carolina State at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Aug. 31 at 7:30 EST. InsideTennessee will be there on the field and in the box.

Darin Hinshaw has plenty to smile about entering his first season as Tennessee's wide receivers coach with three high school All-American's joining the roster.

Danny Parker is currently the Associate Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the InsideTennessee team July 2011.

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