KNOXVILLE (UT) - Injuries are a part of football, and no young team understands that more than Tennessee. After the initial shock, the Vols have adjusted and will play their first full game without standout wide receiver Justin Hunter when they run out of the `T' on Saturday.
"In life - when someone gets hurt - you have to move on," wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. "It is what it is. I think the team knows that Justin was a big part of what we do and who we are and someone has to step up and take the challenge. We will just have to see who will."
Hunter - who underwent successful surgery Wednesday on the torn ACL in his left knee - had the advantage of playing in spots and learning behind veteran receivers as a freshman in 2010. The process worked wonders for him, catching 17 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns in three games.
Sophomore Matt Milton and freshmen DeAnthony Arnett and Vincent Dallas won't have the same advantages Hunter did a year ago and will have to mature quicker. But in the long run, that route could be beneficial.
"They are the ones that have to go - they are all we have," Baggett said. "It is a little bit more work for them. These guys have shown maturity and I think over time they will get even more mature. I am excited about what they can do.
"I told them in meetings (Wednesday) morning that one of the things I woke up to was thinking about the game and how I am excited to see how well they play. It will be interesting and fun for me to stand on the sidelines and see young guys perform."
One that has shown potential in performing is Arnett, who hauled in a team-high eight receptions with extended playing time against the Gators while displaying the ability to stretch the field.
"We saw some things in high school and we saw some things during early fall camp that lead us to believe he can do a lot more things," Baggett said. "You can't give it to him all at one time, you have to spread it out, and that is what we will do. That is the exciting part, to see what these guys can do because we don't really know."
SECONDARY IN TRANSITION
Heading into Saturday's game with Buffalo, one unit that will have a new starter for the Vols is the secondary. With so many new faces, defensive backs coach Terry Joseph has been monitoring the progress of many new players which has led to a change in the line-up. Sophomore Izauea Lanier has made major strides in a short time on campus, so much so that he will draw his first start at cornerback on Saturday.
"He's gotten a lot better mentally," Joseph said. "Obviously, his skill set is what you like at corner because he has size and speed. As time has run (by), he has gotten better with the playbook. You can see that in his play. Now, I think he's just reacting more than thinking. I thought he was thinking a lot in training camp. That was a product of him not playing for about a year-and-a half."
Lanier is part of group of newcomers that are producing, which gives Joseph several options in the secondary. That group also includes freshmen Justin Coleman and Brian Randolph, along with JUCO transfer Byron Moore.
"I think the big thing for all of those guys, the high school and JUCO guys is the speed of the game," Joseph said. "They have played three games and now they understand that practice is one thing, we can preach it and we can say, `You can't do it.' Now they understand the consequences of when it happens in a game and the skill level of the guys they are going against every down. That's big, they have all gotten snaps and now we will see where we are at after three games."
With Lanier's move to start, Coleman has been taken out of the starting line-up. But the rookie is still a key component for the Vols DBs. He didn't start against Florida, as senior Art Evans was given the nod.
"Justin is very much still in the mix," said Joseph. "The decision to not play (start) him against Florida was just a decision to calm him down a little bit. I though that he was a little shook and his confidence was a little shaken. I didn't want to put him out there in The Swamp. I want him to continue to develop. As a coaching staff, we feel good about him. I think he's responded well. He's learned. The tough thing for him is that, because of our situation, he had to have on the job training and probably cornerback is not a job you want to do that with. I'm excited about Justin, just as I was leaving training camp."
HIESTAND TALKS MAC
Tennessee offensive line coach Harry Hiestand only spent one season coaching in the Mid-American Conference with Toledo in 1988, but it certainly left him with a strong impression of what the schools in that league are all about.
"Tremendously tough kids, that's the thing I remember," Hiestand said. "Everywhere I remember playing, the kids on our team were tough and it seemed like every team we played in that league had hard-nosed kids that loved football, played with a passion and played with a lot of toughness and effort, week-in and week-out."
With MAC-opponent Buffalo making the trip to Rocky Top this Saturday, Hiestand knows that the Bulls will be looking to make a statement against on the road against an SEC team and are definitely not a squad to be taken lightly.
"It was an interesting league because a lot of the guys felt a little bit shorted," Hiestand said. "They didn't an opportunity from some of the `bigger programs,' particularly the Big 10 up in that area, so they were hungry and wanted to prove a point that they belong. They pop up right and left (in the NFL). There is no question."
Wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett
(On moving on from losing Hunter)
"It took me a while. Justin is one of favorites and it's unfortunate that it happened but we have to move on. He will be back and he will come back strong. It didn't take me too long, you have to come to grips with it. I have been around long enough to know that when something happens with sports you have to go to the next guy and have some one step up."
(On what the young receivers bring)
"I think that we have so many different types. Justin is unique and he does so many things so well and he is fast and big. He can catch real well and he is acrobatic. Each one of these guys does something different -that is the part that I am talking about. I want to see how they do. Coach Chaney and I have been trying to figure out here in practice about what strengths they have, what to do, what plays to run with each guy. Where you can put them in a position and where they will have success instead of asking them to do something right away that they can't do. I think that is part of coaching. I am excited about that."
(On the offensive line's focus this week)
"Improvement, improvement, improvement. You always have to focus on your opponent, but number one is improvement. We have to take care of the things that each individual has to take care of to improve. There is a lot of room for improvement and the guys had a good week focusing on the things that each of them needs to do and then try to do it collectively."
(On limiting breakdown in communication)
"Focus, practice, doing it over and over. It is reacting and understanding the concepts. Talking to one another. Every time somebody new comes in, they have to be up to speed with what everyone else is doing."
(On the causes for breakdown in communication)
"It's a combination of things. Sometimes it is a lack of focus. Sometimes it is not being confident in what you are doing. Then some things happen at the last second, but that is part of playing that spot. You have to be able to react and recover fast."
(On James Stone)
"He obviously struggled (at Florida). Any time any of us don't do something good, if we have pride we will come back and fight, work and try to do it better. No matter what our profession is, no matter who we are, if you have pride in what you do you will fight back and that is what James has done."
Defensive backs coach Terry Joseph
(On Byron Moore)
"He's moving around better. I don't know if he's more comfortable or he has a better understanding of what's going on and what's expected now. He's covering better, he's in position more and he's finishing plays. I'm excited to see him get out there on Saturday and hopefully he can help us."
(On the nickel package)
"When we play nickel, Prentiss (Waggner) will go down and play the nickel spot. But in a base (defense), Prentiss will start at free safety. Brian Randolph can play nickel and Randolph can play bandit, so he can spell (Brent) Brewer too. It just gives us a little more flexibility back there."
(On Brian Randolph)
"Brian Randolph is a good football player. We are just trying to be careful to not overload him with too much stuff right now. He knows the nickel, safety and piece-by-piece he's getting better and better with the base package. The thing he really brings to you is that he is a sure tackler. That's the exciting thing about him. Hopefully as the season goes on, he gets more and more comfortable and we can throw more and more at him."
(On Buffalo's Passing Game)
"They throw a lot of screens. They want to run a bubble screen and and out screens, which we obviously haven't defended real well early in the season. That's going to be something we really have to take care of. (They have) a lot of three-step quick passing game. A lot of quick outs and Terrell Jackson is a good player, so they want to get him on the backside and run a lot of go-routes with him. We should see a lot of slants, so hopefully we can get our hands on a lot of guys and hopefully we can get some takeaways. That's an area we really need to improve on."
SEC TOGETHER WE CAN FOOD DRIVE
This is the final weekend for the annual SEC Together We CAN Food Drive! Every fall, the 12 SEC schools and the surrounding communities collect canned food to help fight hunger. Saturday, Oct. 1, from 9 a.m.-Noon, there will be collection bins at three or four locations throughout the Vol Village where UT fans can make donations. UT student-athletes will be collecting and happy to sign autographs and take pictures. All of the food donated goes to the Second Harvest Food Bank here in Knoxville. The first 500 donors will receive a coupon for a free appetizer with the purchase of any entrée at the Texas Roadhouse during Vol Calls with Dooley on Wednesday nights from 7-9 p.m.
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