A former quarterback, an inexperienced underclassman and a shifty running back may prove to be Tennessee’s best options at receiver this season.
The Vols returned to the field Tuesday for their first post-spring break practice with the same issues and concerns they had before vacation. Tennessee is still thin at receiver, and that means it may have to get creative, which could make things interesting.
One of the options is Jauan Jennings. A former high school quarterback, the sophomore made the move to receiver during preseason camp last season. It worked. Jennings eventually started six games, catching 14 passes for 149 yards. Those aren’t mind-blowing statistics, but not bad for a newbie at the position.
Preston Williams is another option. His freshman season was memorable, but mostly for the wrong reasons. In 2015, Williams had to retake his college admission test before he was deemed eligible with just a few practices left in preseason camp. Williams managed to play in eight games, had one start and caught seven passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns despite being hampered by a hamstring injury for much of the season. Again, those aren’t spectacular statistics, but more than respectable considering the circumstances.
Now, it’s up to Jennings and Williams to show that the potential they displayed as freshmen can translate into consistent playmaking when the Vols need them. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs said he has seen positive signs during the first handful of spring practice sessions.
“It’s been huge,” Dobbs said of the duo’s development. “You talk about Jauan and Preston, one came in as a QB and wasn’t even playing receiver last spring. Then Preston missed a lot of camp. These reps are crucial for them. They’ve really hit the ground running. They’re starting to step up and make a lot of plays. That’s good to see.”
Tennessee has more accomplished receivers on its roster, namely juniors Josh Malone and Josh Smith. However, Jennings and Williams have shown enough flashes to make one think they could enhance the entire group — and possibly even lead it.
“It’s great to have playmakers,” Dobbs said of Jennings and Williams. “They’re good athletes. They’re long. They’re tall. Having those outside makes it tough on DBs. (defensive backs).”
Jennings and Williams aren’t the only options to catch some passes. Running back Alvin Kamara is certainly a target. Kamara was Tennessee’s second-leading receiver last season with 34 catches.
“You see the breaks he makes,” Dobbs said. “The first guy is always going to miss, regardless. Anytime you can get the ball in his hands, that’s what we want to do and we’re finding new ways to do that. He’s very versatile in the backfield or in the slot. He can do a lot of things.”
This is Kamara’s second spring practice with the Vols. The former Alabama running back, who then headed to junior college,enrolled in January 2015. Despite his production last season, Kamara was actually quite lost in the offense a year ago.
“I feel like a veteran this spring,” he said. “Last year, I felt like I was running around not knowing what was going on. This year, I know the flow of practice. I know what is going on and what is expected of me from my teammates. I feel like a veteran.”
Spring practice has yet to prove that Tennessee’s receivers will be a team strength. However, the potential is there to surpass somewhat lowly expectations.
“Every time we step on the field,” Dobbs said, “our timing grows.”
That’s what Tennessee’s coaches and fans are counting on.