Receivers struggle in Tennessee spring practice No. 11: View from sidelines (updated)

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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee
— It’s no surprise that Tennessee’s receivers corps is rebuilding after losing two potential first-round receivers, but the problems may be more dire than expected.

I’ve never claimed to be a football guru. I don’t try to analyze a lineman’s technique or comment on a quarterback’s release point. But sometimes the conclusions are obvious even for amateurs like me: Tennessee’s receivers have a LONG way to go.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen more drops in a single practice viewing period. Devrin Young and Alton “Pig” Howard had rough days. Receivers coach Zach Azzanni was even critical at times of the normally stalwart Cody Blanc. The one exception? Jason Croom. There’s little doubt he has been the most consistent receiver, and certainly over the last week or two.

Moving on….

* I think Butch Jones stole my Pandora station for the pre-practice stretching period. We heard “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” (aka Gangsta Party) by Snoop and 2Pac. (Fun fact: The song, which I hadn’t heard in a while, peaked at No. 1 in 1996. Crazy fact: Most members UT’s football team were toddlers then).

The second selection was “And then what” by Young Jeezy feat. Mannie Fresh. (Fun facts: It peaked at No. 67 in 2005. It was from Jeezy’s debut album “Thug Motivation” and was his first ever single).

* On the injured list today: WR Vincent Dallas (concussion-like symptoms?), WR Paul Harris (hamstring), S Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder), TE Justin Meredith (unknown), DL Mo Couch (shoulder).

* This was new: The injured players have now been enclosed behind a fence at the corner of the practice field. I’m being quite literal. They even added signage designating it as “The Hole.”

* The practice opened with an impromptu one-on-one between Croom and Justin Coleman from the 4-yard line. Coleman grabbed the INT (I think thrown by Justin Worley, although I wouldn’t judge the quarterback harshly because it’s not like he had other options to throw to.)

* Defensive coordinator John Jancek and defensive backs coach Willie Martinez were coaching like maniacs today. That’s nothing new for Martinez, but it was for Jancek, who is a “walk-around coordinator” and often bounces from station to station.

* Martinez was particularly tough on juco transfer cornerback Riyahd Jones. He pointed to Justin Coleman and said, “You’re not going to steal reps from him!”

* Other than Croom, the only long catch I remember from today was by walkon Spencer Mackle.

* Jones to a huffing and puffing Daniel McCullers: “Somebody help McCullers! Put him on your back if you have to!”

* Jones liked what he saw out of walk-on running back Deanthonie Summerhill during a drill. He got the attention of veteran Rajion Neal: “Where’s Rajion? See, that’s how we finish every play!”

* Jones spent a lot of time giving advice to punters Michael Palardy and Matt Darr on where their eyes should be after a punt. (I couldn’t hear where they should be. Maybe on their leg? On the ball? I don’t know).

* Walk-on receiver Winston Williams was returning punts today (I assume as part of the scout team, although who really knows) and doing a nice job. But after just goi
ng through the motions at the line of scrimmage a few times, Jones called for a “live” punt. Then he said more quietly to the punt team, “This is two-hand touch.”

I’m not sure Williams knew that, especially since Martinez kept yelling, “Take your shot” to the gunners on the coverage team.

Williams dropped the next punt — who can blame him? — but he caught the next few punts and overall did a really nice job, even if it was for the scout team.

* We’ll have more notes, video from KNS videographer/Web ace Erin Chapin and some photos coming later this afternoon.

Post-practice updates

* RB Marlin Lane missed practice Thursday. We assume his absence is related to the personal/family reasons that caused him to miss time last week.

* Azzanni said Croom tweaked a hamstring during practice and he doesn’t know his status for Saturday’s scrimmage. That puts UT down to four healthy scholarship receivers.

* Azzanni said while he’s disappointed with the progress of the receivers, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. “God bless ’em, (young players) are all the same,” he said. “They think they’re going to take the world by storm and then they hit a wall in Day 2.”

* For what it’s worth, Azzanni said Croom had a terrible practice on Tuesday but bounced back today. But talk of his consistency may be premature.

* I asked offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian if Croom was the top receiver right now, and he said it was too early to say that.

* Bajakian said the hunt for a “playmaker” was still ongoing. “We need a go-to guy, and we need more than one,” he said.

* RBs coach Robert Gillespie said there hasn’t been significant separation between Lane and Rajion Neal. He said Alden Hill is the third-string back right now. Hill has improved more than any other player since the beginning of spring, Gillespie said, because he’s an incredibly hard worker who puts in extra time and has a good attitude.

* Defensive line coach Steve Stripling continued to heap praise on freshman Corey Vereen, saying he’s never seen a young player with the “appetite and attitude” that he does.

“He should be going to the prom right now,” Stripling said.

Vereen was ejected from the scrimmage on Saturday for a late hit. Stripling said Vereen immediately apologized and promised it would never happen again.

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