Anonymous coach wrong about Tennessee receivers

Marvin Westwestwords

Soon and very soon it will be August and starting time for Tennessee football practice. We have been told there is work to be done.

An anonymous coach touched a nerve. Athlon magazine quoted him or her as saying the Vols have a problem. I can think of three or four.

“They need to develop more depth at wide receiver to stay creative,” said the anonymous coach.

If the coach is looking for Jalin Hyatt, he and his five touchdown receptions against Alabama doesn’t live here anymore. What’s more, five against the Tide may never happen again. Nick Saban changed defensive coordinators.

If the anonymous coach has looked and doesn’t see Cedric Tillman, there is a valid reason. He, too, has gone to the NFL.

My opinion is no match for what may be a famous coach but I think Tennessee is properly fortified with well-enough-developed receivers. If Joe makes a go of it, if he throws balls in the general direction, in reach, they’ll catch most of ’em and run as if their hair is on fire.

(Hair on fire is not an original phrase but my handbook, “Secrets of Power Presentations,” says it is a flashy upgrade over just plain fast).

Bru McCoy is a tough guy. He’ll fight defensive backs for position and seize contested passes. Ramel Keyton spent a lot of time in the shadows but his potential has been discovered. Squirrel is America’s best combination of athletic ability and terrific nickname.

Squirrel’s real name is Marquarius Malik White. That’s why he is called Squirrel. He caught nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown against Clemson in the Orange Bowl. That’s why he is where he is on my list.

Radar tracked Squirrel in spring practice going 23 miles per hour. In a lot of school zones, that is speeding. Officers of the law would turn on flashing blue lights and pull Squirrel over.

A reader “overheard” this conversation:

Policeman: “Young man, do you realize how fast you were going?’
Squirrel: “Yes sir, 23.”
Policeman: “Where were you going in such a hurry?”
Squirrel: “Sir, I was on my way to the end zone.”
Policeman: “Why so fast?”
Squirrel: “I’m not very big, sir, but those larger men can’t hurt me if they can’t catch me.”

McCoy, Keyton and White are returnees. McCoy had 52 receptions for 667 yards and four touchdowns. That’s more than Tillman. He was hurt. Keyton had 31 catches for 562 yards and five scores. White had 30 for 481 and two.

Tennessee added Oregon transfer Dont’e Thornton. He is a mismatch waiting to happen, 6-5, track speed, strong. He compared successful statistics and decided the Vols offer more opportunities.

Thornton wasn’t a key fixture at Oregon. He made 17 catches for 366 yards and one touchdown. He does have the ability to stretch the field. He led the Ducks in average yards per catch with 21.5.

So, the Vols need to develop depth? They are working at it. Actually, redshirt freshmen Kaleb Webb and Chas Nimrod look ready to help – size and speed, size and speed.

Tennessee signed Nathan Leacock, incredible athlete, 6-3 and 200, sub 4.4 40. Twenty-two schools recruited him from Raleigh Millbrook because of his 82 catches, school-record 1,703 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns.

The Vols have another strength at the receiver position – coach Kelsey Pope. He can communicate. The recent commitment by Mike Matthews, class of ’24, is evidence.

Milton, star of SEC media days, says he is confident in the chemistry he has built with receivers. He calls them great partners. They smile.

“My connection has always been good with them just because of being here for a long time.”

The quarterback does not think depth is a problem. Josh Heupel doesn’t sound too worried.

Josh didn’t come out and say UT will soon be known again as “Wide Receiver U” but he made it clear that wide receivers are going to thrive. The coach was asked who he thinks will step up. He didn’t say but said he’s confident in Tennessee’s ability to consistently develop wide receivers at a high level.

“In year one, the question was wideouts. In year two, after the departure of Velus (Jones), it was wideouts. I believe in the young guys we have. They have to grow, and then they have to take advantage of opportunities when they come.

“We have some vets that have played a lot of football and have played really well,” Heupel said. “We have some new guys, young guys that are going to get more opportunities. I believe we’ll have guys that will step up and be able to play at a really high level.”

End of discussion – until late August or September. Virginia, maybe, and Florida for sure will tell us more. The Gators say they can’t wait.

Tennessee does have a real problem or two – or perhaps only questions. Who is the offensive right tackle? Who takes over as edge rusher? How does the secondary improve? The Vols of ’22 were 12th in the SEC in pass defense. That’s bad, I say, or awful.

Generally speaking, improvement at any position starts with better players. Improvement in the secondary includes more heat on opposing quarterbacks. Best coaching possible would help.

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks coached defensive backs at Ferris State, Bowling Green, Memphis, Maryland, Cincinnati, Illinois and Penn State on his way to Tennessee.

Secondary coach Willie Martinez was a defensive back at Miami. He coached high school defensive backs at Boca Raton and Olympic Heights in Florida.

He has coached college defensive backs at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Central Florida, Eastern Michigan, Georgia, Oklahoma, Auburn, Tennessee the first time for Butch Jones, Cincinnati, Central Florida again and Tennessee again.

Willie has twice been an assistant head coach. He has a collection of bowl watches and plaques. He has a series of player success stories. You can decide why so many moving vans have come and gone.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is


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