Tinsley emerges ... finally

For 2 1/2 seasons, I'd been telling everyone who'd listen that Derrick Tinsley was going to be an impact player for the Tennessee Vols. And, for 2 1/2 seasons, I'd been getting mostly blank stares in response.

Tinsley caught a team-high five touchdown passes in limited action at tailback in 2002 but really had only one big performance that season -- catching a touchdown pass and throwing one in the same game vs. Georgia.

Well, now he's had two big performances, the second coming against Miami last weekend. Now deployed as a wide receiver, he scored the game's only touchdown on an end-around. He also picked up a crucial first-down with a 12-yard gain on another end-around in the final minutes. Then he made a hit on punt coverage that produced a fumble, which he recovered, to seal UT's victory.

Because Tinsley has missed a lot of time with nagging injuries throughout his career, I assumed that was the reason such a talented athlete had made such a minimal impact in his first 2 1/2 seasons. But the problem was more involved than that.

''His durability's been pretty good this year,'' offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said this week. ''A lot of it is just learning a new position, learning how to run routes. Derrick's dynamic with the ball, and we kept waiting for him to get open where we could throw it to him. That wasn't happening like we wanted it to, so we decided, 'Well, let's hand it to him.' ''

''Obviously, he can make plays when we get the ball in his hands, and we've got to keep generating ways to do that.''


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