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Tennessee’s slot receiver position is coming into focus for Vols

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I think I can speak on behalf of all Tennessee fans and say that it’s time for Squirrel White to go from potential star to superstar. In fact, it feels a bit like his unique skills have been somewhat squandered to this point.

Let’s take a look at White when he was a freshman in 2022. It was rough getting playing time, but White still made it happen. He caught 30 passes for 481 yards and two touchdowns while becoming a fan favorite because he had a moniker that Johnny Knoxville would kill for. Then, White endeared himself even more when he entered the 2023 season with a more outgoing attitude, more confidence and a banner year ahead of him. At least that’s what most people thought.

White caught 64 passes for 764 yards last season, but would have had a better season except for circumstances that were out of his control. The Vols didn’t have the same, elite quarteback play with Joe Milton last season compared to Hendon Hooker in 2022. Then, White’s playing time was affected by the Vols’ determination to making Oregon transfer Dont’e Thornton a slot receiver, despite the fact that he has a body that should be playing wideout.

That seems to be the case this season as Thornton has spent more time with the Vols’ wideouts than the slot receivers in fall camp. The Vols have also worked Braylon Staley, the four-star prospect from South Carolina, at slot receiver extensively.

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When asked about entering his second season, Thornton said, “I am feeling very confident now that I have a year under my belt with the offense. I feel like everything is a lot easier for me. Now I can play faster, and not have to think too much while I am playing. With things going a little bit better towards the end of last season, then with me going down, that’s nothing I can control. 

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“I just used that as a way to get deeper in the playbook, build my faith and know what I need to work on when I come back.”

Said White, “The competition has been really good. The defense, they are flying around making plays. We are getting each other better each and every day. Coming out there with a mindset of having fun out there, just playing from snap to whistle.”

The competition specifically at slot receiver is a bit different this season. With less Thornton in the mix, the Vols have relied on White, Staley and Tulane transfer Chris Brazzell. Both are just focusing on piling up as many practice reps as possible with redshirt freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava, who is set to start his first season in college.

“We are still building chemistry on the practice field, but he is just really smooth out there,” White said. 

As for the competition with Brazzell, White said, “It’s been great. Having Chris (Brazzell II) come in and freshmen, the competition has been great. We have a pretty deep room. We are all battling for a spot, so we come in ready to work.”

Competition is good. Just as long as White wins most of the snaps this fall.

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