KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Freshman Tyler Byrd might be just the spark Tennessee’s offense needs this season.
The true freshman receiver from Naples, Fla., figures to get significant action when the 15th-ranked Vols (2-0) play Ohio (1-1) at noon Saturday in Neyland Stadium (TV: SEC Network).
Coach Butch Jones said senior slot receiver Josh Smith “tweaked his ankle” in Tuesday’s practice, and that he expects Byrd to get more repetitions against the Bobcats.
“Every week he’s getting more on his plate, (and) every week he’s going to get more touches,” Tennessee receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. “He’s a guy we have to figure out how to get on the field more, and we’re force-feeding him right now.”
Byrd is the fastest player on the Vols’ team, according to the “Catapult” GPS metrics Tennessee uses, running more than 23 mph in practice this fall.
Even offensive coordinator Mike DeBord has taken note of Byrd’s play-making ability.
“Like all young players he continues to get better, just getting more reps,” DeBord said. “He’s exciting at practice, too. He’ll make mistakes, all young players do, but he will learn from that and continue to get better.”
Jones, a former receiver and receivers coach en route to becoming a head coach, said he was impressed with the catch Byrd made in the 45-24 win over Virginia Tech, even if it didn’t count.
“He made one of the top 10 Sportscaster catches that I’ve seen, and it was a throw that nobody has seen,” Jones said. “It was in the back of the end zone on the thrown away pass.”
Azzanni said the Byrd — who many believed was better-suited to play defensive back — has worked hard to improve quickly for the Vols.
“He’s in my office every day, he’s watching a ton of film, and he’s getting better and better,” Azzanni said. “That’s what I like about him; he’s really hard on himself.”
— Mike Griffith (@MikeGriffith32) September 16, 2016