Wilks to wideout

He caught 77 passes as a senior at Smyrna High School in 2007 but thought his receiving days were over when he was moved to safety shortly after arriving on Tennessee's campus in August of '08. He was wrong.

Rod Wilks was back at receiver when the Vols worked out Monday at Haslam Field - mostly because the Big Orange suddenly finds itself perilously thin at the wideout positions.

His reaction?

"I feel great about it," he said, grinning broadly. "It's a situation where I could help out the team, and I want to do that."

Gerald Jones, who caught a team-high 30 passes last fall, will be out 3-6 weeks with a high-ankle sprain suffered in Saturday's scrimmage. Fellow junior Denarius Moore, who averaged a team-best 24.6 yards per catch last fall, is out of his walking boot but hasn't practiced on his injured foot all preseason and is unlikely to be available before Game 3 at Florida. Then, of course, there is senior Austin Rogers, who is out for the year with a torn ACL.

The rash of injuries leaves UT with just six scholarship pass catchers - one senior (Quintin Hancock), one junior (converted tight end Brandon Warren), one sophomore (Todd Campbell) and three freshmen (Nu'Keese Richardson, Marsalis Teague, Zach Rogers).

Head coach Lane Kiffin understands that replenishing a depleted position is a lot harder at the college level than it was when he was guiding the NFL's Oakland Raiders one year ago.

"There's no free agency to go to ... or trades," he said, "so we went to Rod Wilks. We made a deal with the defense; I guess we traded for him today and brought him over.

"Obviously, it's hard to do - bring a guy over this late - but he does give us another body over there, and somebody who's played receiver in the past."

At 6-0 and 220 pounds, Wilks is a pretty impressive body. His development at UT has been slowed, however, by moves from receiver to safety to linebacker and back to safety.

"Mentally, I've just got to stay strong, stay focused, keep pushing and never give up," he said. "Only two weeks away from the first game, I've got half the time to get the playbook in, so I'm going to do extra time, extra routes ... just working my butt off."

Wilks was a highly regarded wideout in high school, earning first-team all-state recognition as a junior and senior. He was tabbed the state's No. 2 prospect of 2007 by The Knoxville News-Sentinel and tabbed "Mr. Football" Back of the Year in Class 5A that same season.

Once Jones and Moore return to health, it's likely that Wilks will return to defense. He seems OK with whatever his future holds.

"We don't know right now," he said, "but I'm willing to do whatever it takes. If it's the rest of the year (or) half of the time, I'm just motivated and I'm going to keep doing what I have to do."

Wilks said he hadn't run a route in about a year prior to Monday's practice. Still, he believes his time at safety improved his footwork and quickness which "helps me out a lot running routes and getting back into it."

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