Any player that struts into a meeting room loudly barking to announce his presence better be able to back it up when the lights come on.
Jauan Jennings barks, catches passes in clutch moments and is evolving weekly into that “alpha male” among the Tennessee wide receivers.
“Coach (Butch) Jones always uses the term, ‘We want dogs out there, not cats,’” fourth-year Tennessee wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Zach Azzanni said. “There’s two types of dogs: There’s show dogs and there are work dogs. Show dogs are the guys that look pretty and look great in their uniform and don’t go out there and work and perform. We want to be work dogs here.
“Jauan fancies himself as that back-alley, kind of nasty, grimy work dog that will do whatever you ask him to do. He’ll come into team meetings barking. That’s just him. He wants everyone to know he’s a dog. That’s a part of his mystique and mentality. He fancies himself as that. Yeah, he’s a dog. Sometimes I’ve got to put a leash on him at times at practice. He’s what you want mentality-wise. Absolutely. He brings other people around him up. So, we don’t have cats or show dogs.”
It’s not a look-at-me way of thinking as much as it’s exactly what’s necessary from the neck-up in a league like the Southeastern Conference where finesse isn’t often going to equal catches. Jennings’ mindset carries over to his commanding the football in flight.
He didn’t show up on Rocky Top by way of Murfreesboro that way. It’s taken time under the wing of Azzanni and Jones.
Jennings was a Scout four-star safety prospect but primarily played quarterback at Blackman (Tenn.) High School. After spending Spring 2015 at QB, he offered to switch to wide receiver to get on the field sooner. As a freshman, he caught three passes for 56 yards in his first college game but didn’t exceed two catches or have more than 26 receiving yards in any game the rest of the season.
A knee injury in this past spring cut progress short. Then, he was forced to don a green, no-contact jersey much of August. A sputtering start for Preston Williams — who since transferred — and a catchless first seven games from JUCO newcomer Jeff George meant Jennings had to step up as a viable outside receiver option for quarterback Joshua Dobbs other than Josh Malone.
“He came back way faster than he was supposed to — thank God — in two-a-days from that knee injury in the spring,” Azzanni said of Jennings. “He’s been gutting through a lot of stuff and doing a heck of a job.”
The sophomore answered the call and has become increasingly more reliable. From a three-catch, 111-yard receiving game in the 10-point win over Florida to three more catches in Athens, including a 43-yard touchdown on a Hail Mary to snatch victory away from defeat.
Through Tennessee’s 5-2 start, Jennings has 20 catches for 301 yards and three scores. He’s had no fewer than three catches in each of the Vols’ first four SEC contests.
For more on Jennings’ progress and Tennessee receivers, watch the video above with Azzanni.