UT Practice Update on Wide Receivers and Special Teams
UT Practice Update: Josh’s Job
Freshman Josh Smith continues to impress his coaches. Despite the freshmen competition at receiver, the former standout from Knoxville (Tenn.) Catholic Academy has, well, stood out.
“Instincts,” receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. “He’s an instinctive player. He catches the ball. He has a lot to work on, but he’s instinctual. He’s tough. Those are the things that I like about Josh. He’s a pleasant surprise and we’re happy to have him. He’s going to keep getting better and better, just like those other freshmen.”
While other young receivers such as Marquez North have garnered much preseason praise, junior college transfer Jonathan Johnson, junior Devrin Young and sophomore Alton “Pig” Howard have established themselves in recent drills.
“I’m very happy with Johnathan and Devrin,” Azzanni said. “Both of those guys, I think have really brought it. Devrin has really worked his tail off and brought some good things to the table. I’m pleased with how he is playing right now. Johnathan Johnson – I don’t know what we would do without him, just from the depth standpoint. He’s a crafty player; he’s a productive player. All those three guys, between Pig [Howard], Devrin [Young] and Johnson, are doing a nice job complementing each other in and out of that slot.”
“Pig started off like gang busters, you know – had a couple of bad doldrums practices here and has picked it back up today. I think he just hit that middle of the camp grind. He’s being coachable, he’s really trying to do the things I ask him. I can tell by the way he meets, how he comes to meetings, how he walks around the facility. He’s a different kid than he was in the spring. Those things translate to the field and now he’s taking coaching on the field whereas in the spring, you really didn’t know what to expect a little bit. He’s fighting a little bit. He’s getting better and better.”
North isn’t the only true freshman worth talking about. Ryan Jenkins has also impressed Azzanni – at times.
“Ryan is up and down, up and down, up and down,” Azzanni said. “Off the field, on the field, he’s up and down. He’s kind of all over the place right now, which a lot of freshmen are. So, we’re just trying to reel him back in to focus. He’s a great kid too. I tell you what, there’s nobody fighting it right now. He is a ‘Yes sir, no sir kid’. I mean I can chase him up and down the field, be in his grill telling him, yelling at him, patting him on the butt, it doesn’t matter.”
Azzanni seems encouraged by redshirt freshman Drae Bowles. The Jackson, Tenn., native had trouble finding the field last season since the Vols had a veteran group of receivers. This year he has more of an opportunity.
“Drae is a great kid,” Azzanni said. “Drae can really help us on special teams right now. I think his old place where he’s kind of showing off a little bit, but you know, as far as receiver spot, we’re still waiting to see. I know what he can do from the spring. That’s why these young guys are getting all the reps. I want to see what they can do now. As it gets closer to game time, we’ll kind of sort it out.
Special teams coach Mark Elder seemed pleased with the work ethic of his specialists and special teams performers. Still, he wants to see more improvement.
“We’re coming along,” Elder said. “I think that the kickers are competing. I mean they’re working hard. I mean there’s a couple guys that want that spot, both in the actual field goal position and kickoff, and punt as well.
“The kickoff returners, those guys are just now starting to get those reps. I mean some of the young guys that you’re throwing out there, again the drill work. Seeing them catch a kickoff and not necessarily have to make people miss and run the return. That’s easy, that’s the easy part is catching the kickoff, and it’s seeing what they can do with the football, and that’s what we’re now getting to do as we get the eleven on eleven stuff out here on the field.
“So, the returner stuff, besides the technique, I mean some of the guys have eliminated themselves. The guys that have gone out there when we do drill work and catching the ball, and they don’t catch it. They’re not getting anymore reps, but now it’s a matter of who’s catching it in a pressure situation and then what are they doing with that football once they’ve caught it.”