Growing up fast

Two days after he raved about the freshman wideouts playing behind him, Tennessee receiver Gerald Jones suffered a high-ankle sprain that has put the trio's development on an even faster track.

With Jones sidelined 3-6 weeks, Nu'Keese Richardson, Zach Rogers and Marsalis Teague become vital cogs in the Vol offense. The only other scholarship receivers available at present are senior Quintin Hancock, junior Brandon Warren and sophomore Todd Campbell.

As head coach Lane Kiffin surmised following Monday's practice, the three freshmen are "going to have to do things right, be consistent, because there's nowhere else to go."

So, what did Jones have to say about the trio 48 hours before his injury occurred? Plenty.

"Oh, man, they have come a long way," he said, literally beaming. "They've actually gone from just knowing one route on a certain play to actually realizing the concepts and realizing the blitz pickups. They've come so far. I've helped 'em a lot. They've come to my room and stayed till 12 o'clock, going over plays with me and just asking every kind of question they want. I'm here to answer 'em.

"Coming from high school into this offense is a challenge. They need my help. They ask questions, and I help them out. I treat 'em like my little brothers."

Interviewed following Monday's practice, No. 1 quarterback Jonathan Crompton agreed that Richardson, Rogers and Teague are progressing rapidly.

"They've come a pretty good ways," Crompton said. "They're starting to learn the offense more. They're going to have to help us this year, and they know that, so that's something they're really starting to pride themselves on. They say, 'Hey, I want to know as much as I can, play every position I can, so if somebody needs a break I can get 'em.' That's a good thing because it shows how competitive they are."

Asked if the rookie receivers have shown a heightened sense of urgency since Jones' injury, Crompton shook his head.

"They've always had that sense of urgency," he said, "which is a really good thing to have in a freshman."

Brandon Warren, one of Tennessee's first-team receivers, also sees plenty of determination among the three freshman.

"They're good," he said. "They work really hard. Coach is throwing 'em in the fire, and they're responding really well. We're going to need 'em."

That's for certain. Jones's absence puts added pressure on the rookies to get ready to help in time for the Sept. 5 opener vs. Western Kentucky.

"It does," Kiffin said. "They made a number of mistakes on the first couple of drives (in Saturday's scrimmage). They had the big eyes. That's why we do that; we don't want that to be vs. Western Kentucky when that's happening. Actually, two third-down (conversions) were called back because of penalties - one on Nu'Keese and one on Marsalis."

"But they're going to have to play for us."

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