KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s quest for getting guys to make big plays includes such names as John Kelly, Ty Chandler and Marquez Callaway at the top of the list.
So, Vols coach Butch Jones was asked on Wednesday, what has happened to sophomore receiver Tyler Byrd?
It was Byrd who wowed Vols coaches last fall and earned valuable reps as a true freshman in 2016, playing in some marquee games and finishing his rookie campaign with 15 catches for 209 yards, 8 carries for 63 yards and 10 kick returns for 263 yards.
Byrd has one run for 15 yards and two catches for 21 yards — all in the UMass game — including Tennessee’s most recent touchdown more than 10 quarters ago just before halftime of the 17-13 win over the Minutemen.
“With Tyler, it’s just consistency and performance, and him and I talk all the time,” Jones said. “It’s being able to do it on a consistent basis on the practice field. He has come out this week and worked very hard. It’s just this stage of his career.”
Byrd, a high-profile recruit from Naples, Fla., who won the Sunshine State’s long jump his senior year and was the fastest player on the Tennessee team as a freshman, was thought to be a future star.
But he has disappeared this season when the Vols needed him most, after junior go-to receiver Jauan Jennings suffered a season-ending wrist injury in the 42-41 double-overtime win against Georgia Tech in the season opener.
“We need Tyler Byrd,” Jones said, referring to Tennessee’s 3:30 p.m. ET game on Saturday at Alabama. “We need him to step up and make some plays for us.”
Tennessee football, the good
- Jones said Wednesday that tight end Jakob Johnson will play against Alabama. Johnson is the best open-field blocker on the team.
- Jones said senior Evan Berry continues to practice, and that’s key because Berry is also the No. 3 safety, a position at which UT sorely lacks depth.
- QB Jarrett Guarantano said he doesn’t have the same sort of pregame jitters he had before his first start last Saturday against South Carolina.
Tennessee football, the bad
- Jennings won’t return to the team this season, as many already suspected. Jennings suffered a wrist injury in the opening game.
- Defensive end Darrell Taylor, the Vols’ alpha dog on defense, remains indefinitely suspended.
- There’s been no news of junior offensive guard Jack Jones returning to the lineup. When healthy, Jones can be one of the Vols’ best up front.
Tennessee football, the unknowns
- Jones said senior cornerback Justin Martin returned to the practice field on Wednesday after missing the team’s workout on Tuesday. Martin has had a strong season and the Vols would miss him greatly if he can’t play at Alabama.
- Sophomore WR Marquez Callaway says his position group has worked all week against press coverage, but they’ve yet to show they can beat it in the big games.