Last season, the Wolfpack led all FBS schools in interceptions (27), ranked 61st in passing defense and boasts one of the more physically imposing cornerback duos in the country with David Amerson and Dontae Johnson both being 6-foot-3, 190 pounds.
"I'm very concerned because we have very little experience and they have an incredible amount of it," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. "What those guys do best is they make you pay for any mistakes, whether it's a poor route, an inaccurate football, whatever it is. There is nothing more important than turnovers in these types of games, so we have to be very careful with the ball and not get too ambitious pushing that ball down the field."
Last season, the Volunteers ranked 56th in third down conversion percentage. Starting quarterback Tyler Bray has seen action in 16 career games and has tossed 16 interceptions. His maturity in the huddle and and advancement in taking care of the football will be vital.
Having receivers get open often early could go a long way in building confidence with the Vol offense. Losing All-SEC wideout Da' Rick Rogers less than a week prior to kickoff was a head-shaker.
"I'm very disappointed because that's why I came here," former five-star signee Cordarrelle Patterson said. "I wanted to play with him and Justin and see how things go. But, everything happens for a reason."
|Walk-on Jacob Carter has a solid chance to get playing time in Tennessee's season opener.|
Paired with fellow junior Justin Hunter, it still looks like an embarrassment of riches on the edge with Patterson primed for his first FBS action following two All-America seasons at Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College.
"I'm very excited just to get out there and compete," Patterson told InsideTennessee. "Every down and snap I'm going to just go out there and do the best I can do and execute everything right.
"I know it's going to be a lot different. We'll be ready for it though."
Much of training camp the South Carolina native has donned a no-contact jersey but says his shoulder is "about 100 percent."
Vol wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw said he has confidence in six of his guys to go into the game at any point Friday. Two freshmen not expected to provide much are Jason Croom and Alton Howard. Dooley said that Croom is "limited" or "doubtful" and Howard is "out."
Vincent Dallas had played wide receiver since arriving on campus Jan. 2011. After requesting a switch to the defensive backfield for camp, he's back at wideout to help out in light of Da'Rick Rogers' departure.
"I'm excited about Vincent," Hinshaw said. "He came back and jumped right in the playbook and it's like he didn't miss a beat from this spring. He's really working hard. I'm really excited about what he's done the last couple of days."
Hunter and Zach Rogers have a combined 63 receptions. The other four expected to contribute enter with a catches total of three (all by Dallas).
Former U.S. Army All-American Drae Bowles doesn't look like he's quite ready to see the field.
It's a "learning curve" deal with Drae Bowles. The ability and the attitude are undoubtedly there. He has to get a firm grasp of the Pro-Style offense before the staff is going to be willing to put him on the field in a less-than-three-score situation. However, once it clicks with the Jackson, Tenn., native, his career in orange could take off.
With no Da'Rick and surrounded by a host of green horns, Hunter and Patterson must carry the load and find a way to get open on third-and-long.
"It's a lot of pressure, but I don't pay no attention. I just go out and do what the coaches tell me to do," Patterson said.
Hinshaw recognizes not only the talent on the back end of the N.C. State defense but also the experience.
"They're a very good secondary," he said. "Obviously they have a lot of snaps and played a lot of games together. You can just watch them on film and understand that they know what they're doing really well. They know their coverages really well."
Hinshaw talks about the progress his wide receivers are making in this video interview:
See what Justin Hunter said about stepping up as the veteran of the Vol wide receivers and other topics in this video:
Cordarrelle Patterson's debut is one of the more highly anticipated of all the Volunteers. Get his thoughts in this footage:
Vincent Dallas goes on camera to talk about his transition back to offense from defensive back: