KNOXVILLE — Tennessee’s best freshman receiver might also be its best freshman defensive back.
Of course, Tyler Byrd has only played receiver so far, which only makes sense when one considers the emphasis Coach Butch Jones is putting on the Vols’ inconsistent receiving corps.
Junior Josh Malone, one of the more consistent receivers in that group, dished out praise for the 6-0, 195-pound Byrd.
“Tyler is going to be a real good player moving forward … really strong and he’s very fast,” Malone said. “Real fast, like, he’s going to be a speedster on the field.”
No doubt, Byrd has been the fastest player on the Vols team according to a photo attributed to UT football Snapchat account that was making the rounds on Monday night.
Jones, who knows as well as anyone that Byrd also possesses elite defensive back skills, has grouped Byrd and Brandon Johnson as the early freshman receiver standouts.
“Tyler Byrd has done a remarkable job learning the fine details,” Jones said. “He competes every day. Brandon Johnson has done a great job, too, but they are still puppies.”
Byrd said before he reported to UT that he was willing to do whatever was in the team’s best interests.
There’s a chance before his UT career is over with, he could end up being a two-way player.
Vols defensive coordinator Bob Shoop was asked about Byrd last week and made it clear he understands why Byrd is on offense.
“I think one of the things that’s really kind of unique about our team is Coach (Mike) DeBord, Coach (Larry) Scott and myself all have head coaching experience, so we all see big-picture thinking and understand it’s what is best for the team,” Shoop said, “and (Byrd) in the slot receiver position, Coach felt that’s what was best for the team, and Tyler is certainly a dynamic athlete who can excel on either side of the ball and on special teams, so although we certainly think he could be a tremendous safety and a tremendous addition to the secondary, it’s what is best for the team.”
Shoop said it didn’t take long to see Byrd stand out last week.
“Through the first days of practice, and I don’t know all the numbers of the rookie offensive players, and I’ve said, “Who’s that?,” and they’ve said, ‘That’s Byrd,’ “ Shoop said. “So he’s made a first impression in one-on-ones, and he’s clearly a player who could be an upper-level SEC player.”
Byrd, it’s worth noting, has a 75-inch wingspan and had seven blocks of extra points and field goals last season at Naples.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.