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Tennessee football setting a standard at slot receiver

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We know about the history of Tennessee football and Wide Receiver U. Josh Heupel bringing it back with Cedric Tillman is a part of that story, and Jalin Hyatt has added onto it.

However, Hyatt is part of another developing tradition, the tradition of the slot receiver. With his play, Hyatt is following in the footsteps of what Velus Jones Jr. began last year.

This success stood the test of the switch from Kodi Burns to Kelsey Pope as wide receivers coach despite Pope being more experienced with wideouts like Tillman. Pope touted Hyatt’s work in the offseason to improve.

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“I challenged those guys to catch 10 thousand balls in the months of June and July, and Jalin went for like 13, 14 thousand,” Pope said in a Tuesday press conference. “He was in here all the time at night catching balls on the jugs, so I think at that point, I really saw it, because it’s all about the work you put in.”

That work has translated to 40 catches for 769 yards and 12 touchdowns, one away from the single-season school record, barely halfway through the year. Hyatt has nearly doubled his career production before this year.

He is also approaching Jones’ production last year. Jones had 62 catches for 807 yards and seven touchdowns en route to being a third-round NFL Draft pick by the Chicago Bears. Pope said both Hyatt and Jones had to develop.

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“I think the biggest win in both of those stories, Jalin (Hyatt) and Velus (Jones), is the younger guys being able to see it’s not all about immediate success,” he said. “It’s not all about an immediate result. You’ve got to kind of go through the process, and eventually it’ll be worth it. I think that’s the most valuable piece.”

One of those younger players able to benefit has been Squirrel White, another slot receiver. White came in and caught five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown against the UT-Martin Skyhawks.

It’s pretty clear at this point White is in line to replace Hyatt as Tennessee football’s next slot receiver. The freshman touted the example Hyatt set when he first arrived on campus.

“When I first got here, I immediately went to Jalin Hyatt for help, and I just knew this season he’d do his thing, and I just try to look up to him,” he said. “He motivates me everyday.”

A turning point for Hyatt, according to Pope, was in spring ball. It came at a point in which they were simulating a two-minute drive against the defense.

“He’s tapping his chest and he wants to come out, and I’m telling him, ‘No, you’re going to stay in and you’re going to play,'” he said. “That drive he caught like three or four balls.”

Of course, there’s a possibility Tillman returns soon, and he’ll be doing so with an elite receiver to help him in the slot. Ramel Keyton and Bru McCoy are threats too.

There will be a lot of talk about how dangerous Tennessee football can be in that moment. However, Pope said the Vols have to tune it out.

“We’ve got to continue to keep the process being our focus and continue preparing the way we are,” he said. “That’s got to be our main focus.”

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