KNOXVILLE - The Vols will return to Neyland Stadium Saturday for their first ever meeting with Sun Belt conference foe South Alabama at 12:21 p.m. on SEC TV.
Through four games, the Volunteers have started five different wideouts and had nine record receptions.
For Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni it sometimes feels like the classic carney game Whac-A-Mole.
"I've seen progress, it's just funny because it comes and goes in different areas like that mole game," said Azzanni. "You slap that mole then another one pops up, that's what I feel like sometimes with young inexperienced receivers. You feel like you got one thing hit so you hit the mole down, then another area pops up.
"I'm teaching them everything from nutrition, how we meet, to how we come out to the field and just grinding that into them. There's nobody in that room for them to look at and go `do it like that guy.' They've had bad habits for a while here and I'm trying to break them. I don't have an old guy that's been around me for a long time that I can say `that's the guy, do it like him.'
"I've got to be the guy and I'm okay with that. Next year hopefully I'll have a lot of guys that know exactly how I want it done and it'll get a lot better."
With a wideout by committee scheme, no one guy has secured his place as the top dog.
"I start based on who has the best week of practice," said Azzanni. "It's as simple as that. Yesterday is was Jason (Croom). He didn't have as good a practice today, so it was Josh (Smith). I'll look at the film and see who comes out tomorrow. That's how I do it."
Sophomore speedster Pig Howard has established himself as the guy in the slot, hauling in eight receptions for 112 yards and two scores on the season, but Azzanni sees room for improvement.
"He has a lot of upside to him still," said Azzanni. "I think he's still learning how to be a big time player and that's my job. He still doesn't have great habits yet, and I'm still working with him on that as far as how to study the game, take care of his body and how to come out here every day.
"That's my job... to keep pushing, keep chomping and hopefully it'll come out in the end. Hopefully he can be an Antonio Brown, a Jared Abbrederis and be one of those guys one of these days."
QUINN WORKING HIS WAY IN
With just six receptions from the position this season, tight ends coach Mark Elder is looking to get his guys more involved into the Vols' offensive gameplan.
Currently sitting at No. 3 on the depth chart, junior college transfer and former volleyball star Woody Quinn is making a push for some time.
"Woody has had a better week of practice this week, he has picked up a couple things as far as what I've been asking him to do," said Elder. "He is taking steps forward and if he continues to progress I see him getting more in the mix as the season goes on."
Quinn's biggest improvement has been his physicality.
"He is playing more physical, that is the biggest thing," said Elder. "He is playing with a better pad level and playing more physical and those are the things we are asking him to do.
"First and foremost our tight ends have to be physical guys at the point of attack. They are not a receiver; they are a tight end. They have to be tough guys and that is what we are asking them to do. Now obviously we throw those guys the ball quite a bit but if you are not willing to do the first part then the second part is not going to play a role either."
With Quinn making a significant step up from the juco level to the best college football conference in the nation, Elder knew it was going to take some time.
"It is an adjustment process for anybody going from one level to another level," said Elder. "I think that a lot of times the receiving aspect comes a little easier because that's not the part that is difficult coming to a college where the guys are bigger and more physical.
"[Being physical] is the tough part, being able to win your one-on-one at the point of attack and making that step forward when the competition level is greater."
Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian will tell you the Vols are trying to run a balanced offense.
That means equal time for the wide receivers, running backs and tight ends, in order to keep the defense guessing.
Though the Tennessee wide receivers emerged towards the end of the Florida game last Saturday, it was the running backs getting the bulk of the action at the beginning of the game.
This week, against South Alabama, the Vols need the wide receivers to emerge in order to spread out the defense and help the running backs find some space.
"We are a better group in the front at offensive line and we have a lot of experience at the running back," said running backs coach Robert Gillespie. "We realize we are playing a new quarterback trying to get those guys in a rhythm and receivers confident also."
"Everybody reads the scouting reports and understands they have to stop the run," continued Gillespie. "That is just a challenge to us every week. Regardless of what they do on the other side we have to establish a run game."
"Once we have been consistent in the games that we have won, we have been able to improve our passing game."
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