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Tennessee WRs are Vols’ most exciting story of spring practice

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Tennessee will hold its first full-pad scrimmage of spring practice on Saturday. There’s one position that is well worth the price of admission – if you could buy a ticket for such things.

The Vols’ competition at receiver has been intense in the first week of spring practice and the talk of preseason camp. Why? Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, Tennessee’s best receiver is on the sideline.

Senior Bru McCoy is expected to be fully healthy by this fall, but he only returned to full speed running about a month ago as he recovers from the leg injury he suffered last season. His absence means more repetitions for other players.

So far, none of the true players for snaps at receiver this fall have been MIA in spring camp. All of the Vols’ receivers have made plays this spring, including freshmen Mike Matthews and Braylon Staley. Meanwhile, sophomore Chas Nimrod and Kaleb Webb are known commodities after playing extensively last season. Are they talented enough to hold onto their spot in line with Matthew and Staley chomping at the bit?

The biggest determining factor as to who might play which position this fall is Dont’e Thornton, the senior transfer from Oregon who has added weight and looks healthy despite suffering a season-ending injury against last season during a touchdown catch against Missouri.

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Thornton came into the 2023 season with massive expectations. Those were certainly not met until just before he got hurt. Thornton could be looked at like the first domino in the Vols receiver rotation.

Thornton could be moved to wideout, which would seem to be a good fit given his 6-foot-5 and 214-pound frame, or continue at slot receiver, which he played the majority of last season. Once the Vols’ coaches have a plan for Thornton, some other things should fall into place, most notably Squirrel White’s playing future.

If Thornton moved outside, White would be the main man at slot receiver with no real competition. If Thornton stays at the slot, they’ll both likely play this fall. 

The overall, macro question about the Vols’ receiver is whether or not Tennessee will rotate more players into the game than it has under coach Josh Heupel in the past. That largely depends on what happen during the offseason with Thornton, the Vols’ talented freshmen duo and a long offseason. It’s important to note that skill-position players can make vast improvements during summer workouts so, with the first scrimmage on tap for Saturday, don’t expect a starting lineup announcement anytime soon.

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