KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s Tyler Byrd has been the impact player at receiver the Vols hoped he would, emerging as one of the most trusted and dynamic playmakers on the team this season.
The true freshman receiver is speeding along, the fastest player on the team and the only receiver who has not dropped a pass this season entering this weekend’s game against Alabama (3:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS).
“T-Byrd, he’s very elusive, definitely a playmaker for us, and he makes guys miss after catches,” Vols QB Josh Dobbs said of Byrd earlier this season. “We’re going to keep pushing him and his role will continue to grow as he continues to be successful.”
And so it has, with Byrd ranking third among the receivers with nine catches for 119 yards while also getting three carries for 16 yards.
Byrd is coming off his most productive game of the season. He had three catches for a career-high 60 yards along with two carries for 11 yards in Tennessee’s 45-38 double-overtime loss at Texas A&M.
“I think that it happened in the Florida game, that was my first SEC game, and being able to make a few plays, that helped me and it really clicked,” said Byrd, a 6-foot, 195-pounder who had three catches against the Gators. “It’s an honor to be in this situation, and I just need to embrace my role, whatever role they give me.
“I’ve felt really confident, I’ve had great mentors, and they make sure I know all the plays, so I’m always in there trying to get the extra work so I know in those (clutch) times that Josh Dobbs feels confident in me, and it’s a great honor he has confidence in me and goes to me in that kind of situation.”
UT offensive coordinator Mike DeBord has said he does, too, and the Vols have looked to find ways to get the ball into Byrd’s hands more often.
It might only be a matter of time before Byrd is playing snaps on defense, too, as that was where he truly excelled in high school.
“I would be open to it …. being a defensive guy, I definitely miss it,” Byrd said, “but I’m here to embrace my role as a wide receiver.”
Byrd shrugged when asked if he felt he might hit the so-called “Freshman Wall.”
“I don’t think I’ve hit that wall, but it might come,” Byrd said. “If it does, I need to keep grinding through it.
“Everybody, freshman or senior, will hit that wall when you get tired and we just need to push.”