Jauan Jennings leapt into the air Friday, contorting his body halfway at its peak height and reaching an enormous hand up to the skies to haul in a high pass. He brought it gently into his chest, securing the catch before tapping his feet on the end zone chalk.
In a real game, Jennings’ foot meeting the end zone sideline would have voided the catch, but in this case it didn’t matter. The jaw-dropping snag that would have been a non-catch was just yet another example of just how good Jennings is going to be as a wide receiver for Tennessee.
“You can see his technique getting better,” head coach Butch Jones said after Saturday’s practice. “We all know he has a great vertical. He has a very good adjustment to the ball in the air, he has very good initial quickness, and he’s been a great addition to that room. He’s pushing everyone else, and I think that helps. As we all know, you can never have enough competition.”
Jennings, who switched from quarterback to his current position in fall camp, went from barely running or absorbing contact in practice to the exact opposite. The 6-foot-3, 201-pounder is known for his pure athleticism, but it’s his grasp of the conditioning aspect of the position that has really impressed his head coach.
“He’s not missed one rep. He’s on just about every single special teams (play) and, again, I don’t know if people understand, the biggest thing from transitioning from quarterback to wide receiver is the volume of running,” Jones said. “You’re basically lacing your shoes up and you’re going non-stop, and really being in football condition. I’ve never, not once, heard him complain about it. He’s welcomed it.”
Even the most talented athletes are prone to struggle after switching positions, especially as drastic a switch as the one Jennings made. Going from under center to the target of the guy under center isn’t exactly like switching from guard to tackle, but Jennings has made it seem like it’s the place he should have already been at since coming on campus for spring practice.
"It has exceeded our expectations right away. Usually there is a learning curve,” Jones said. “That has not affected Jauan. I think him being here in the spring, playing quarterback, understanding the offense, he's been able to make that adjustment of moving to receiver.”
Having experience in both meeting rooms surely helped, and possessing the mind of a quarterback that has now transitioned to the mind of a receiver ensures he’ll understand both sides of the equation. But with a deep wide receiving corps headlined by guys who have spent their entire college careers at the position, will Jennings be talented enough to make an impact right away?
The most important person in deciding that certainly thinks so.
“I can answer that right away: Yes,” Jones said. “He’s another young man who’s playing with a high energy level. [He’s] playing with a lot of confidence."