- Advertisement -

Tennessee’s talent at receiver stands out in Orange and White game

- Advertisement -

Spring games are about players, not plays; about talent, not technique.

As I watched Tennessee’s spring game on a sun-spanked Saturday afternoon before a sparse crowd of 10,000 at Neyland Stadium, I was focused on playmakers that might return the Vols’ offense to elite status.

Quarterback Nico Iamaleava is a talent, but he can’t do it alone.

He won’t have to, not after watching the skills of two newcomers at wide receiver.

Tulane transfer Chris Brazzel dazzled as he caught a 71-yard touchdown pass and recorded a team-high 89 yards on four receptions. He is 6-foot-5, athletic and fast. He’s an explosive play waiting to happen.

- Advertisement -

True freshman Mike Matthews, a touted five-star from Georgia, reeled in a 63-yard touchdown pass and threw a key block to help Dayton Sneed score on a 13-yard screen pass.

SUBSCRIBE: “The Dave Hooker Show”

Put those two alongside Bru McCoy and Squirrel White – neither of whom played in the Orange and White game – and you’ve got the makings of a strong unit. Add 6-foot-6 Dont’e Thornton and Chas Nimrod and Kaleb Webb and you’ve got one of the best crop of receivers in the SEC. That’s not counting walk-on Sneed, who led all receivers with five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown.

“This is the deepest wide receiver pool we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Tennessee’s fourth-year coach Josh Heupel. “I love the competitiveness of the group.”

Heupel complimented the wideouts’ ability to make plays, beat press coverage and block.

“It’s good to see how they’ve grown (this spring),” Heupel said.

 Heupel was asked what attributes he looks for in determining which wideouts to play.

“You look for guys that play at a championship level,” Heupel said.

Tennessee seems to have a handful that fit into that category. And knowing that Heupel rarely subs out his top wide receivers, the competition will be fierce during summer workouts and August camp to decide who starts and who makes the limited rotation.

Heupel lauded the wideouts development during the spring and said the coaching staff worked to hone specific skills.

“Don’t ask them to do things they can’t do,” Heupel said. “Ask them to do things they can do.”

That sounds simple, but it’s an overlooked practice in coaching.

“Explosive,” Heupel said of Matthews. “He’s willing to be physical. He plays well without the ball in his hands. He competes hard.”

Brazzell, who caught 44 passes at Tulane last season, said he’s adjusted to UT’s fast-pace attack.

“At the beginning,” he said, “it was hard to learn the tempo of the game. Now, I’m accustomed to it.”

Heupel said the newcomers at receiver added “athleticism and the ability to attack the football at the catch point.”

The wideouts aren’t the only element of the passing game. Heupel likes to utilize the tight ends as well. Walk-on Charlie Browder led the team in the spring game with three catches.

Notre Dame transfer Holden Staes, the top-ranted tight end in the transfer portal, was targeted twice without a catch. Alabama transfer Miles Kitselman, the best blocker among the tight ends, had one catch for 14 yards. Ethan Davis, the best athlete of the bunch, didn’t play due to injury.

Tennessee threw four touchdown passes in the spring game, three covering at least 27 yards. Brazzell caught a 71-yard bomb from freshman Jake Merklinger, who accounted for three touchdowns. Matthews caught a 63-yarder from Gaston Moore, a fifth-year senior who has been in Heupel’s system for five years. Chas Nimrod made a 27-yard grab from Iamaleava. And Sneed caught a 13-yard scoring toss from Merklinger.

Merklinger added a 26-yard run, showing impressive mobility.

You shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from a spring game.

But it does appear the Vols have quality receivers who can make explosive plays and that Iamaleava will be a more accurate passer who will allow the wideouts to churn out more yards after catch than they did with the often-off-target throws of Joe Milton.

That could help the Vols improve their scoring average from 31.7 points per game to about 40.

And that could make the difference in a win or two this fall.

- Advertisement -

Latest YouTube Videos

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest Podcast

- Advertisement -

More Podcasts

- Advertisement -