published Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

UT receivers Hunter, Rogers becoming more mature

  • photo
    In this file photo, Justin Hunter, left, and Da'Rick Rogers joke around together while being interviewed during the University of Tennessee's football media day at Neyland Stadium.
    Photo by Alex Washburn /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — If anybody knows Justin Hunter's clashing personas, it's his friend and fellow University of Tennessee sophomore receiver Da'Rick Rogers.

"Justin is so goofy," Rogers said after practice Tuesday morning. "He's the goofiest person, the funniest person I've ever met, but he comes to work every day and works hard. Off the field, funniest guy ever. But on the field, he's about business."

Since last season, when the rangy, athletic Hunter hauled in a UT freshman record seven touchdown passes, the focus has been on becoming more of an all-around receiver in order to be more than just a downfield threat for the Vols' passing game.

While Hunter said he's progressed in that direction with plenty more of work to do, he's matured on the field.

"I think for the most part, when times get hard I handle it better than I did like I would last year [and] in the spring, too," he said. "Just like [if] a bad ball goes or I drop a pass or miss an alignment, I don't get mad, I just stay grounded."

The expectations for Hunter and Rogers, though, are anything but grounded. Together the duo has to be dependable for quarterback Tyler Bray and make plays after the catch. Despite focusing part of his offseason on his exploits with UT's track team as a high-level jumper, Hunter said he's developed a sense of how much work his role requires.

"Basically coach [Derek] Dooley and [receivers] coach [Charlie] Baggett tells us every day that hard work will get you far," Hunter said. "They've implanted that in our heads every day."

Said Rogers, "[Hunter had] a hard offseason. He's really coming along as another receiver that I hope gets double teams to free me up."

Morning glory

With fall-semester classes beginning today at UT, the Vols are off before beginning their new morning practice routine full-time. Practice will start at 9 a.m., and players will attend classes in the afternoon. Once the season starts, the Vols will practice Sunday and use Mondays as their day off.

Dooley said he feels good about the schedule.

"We've got to get in a little rhythm of game-planning as coaches because this will be new for our game-planning," he said. "I think it cleans up the game for the players on Sunday so you don't have to wake up Monday and still revisit Saturday. It's going to help the players manage their weeks better. They're going to get to bed earlier, they're going to eat better and they won't be oversleeping for class because they have to practice."

'Eating peanuts'

Dooley said Monday the Vols are still trying to figure out the cornerback position, but he said Tuesday he likes the size he has at the position, specifically with junior college transfer Izauea Lanier.

"You get all these little guys with quick feet and those big wideouts are eating peanuts off their heads in the middle of the game," Dooley said. "That's what happens. You're never going to to be able to get corners the size of the big wideouts because they have to cover little guys, too, but you better have some size and physicality on the edge."

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Lanier provides that, and UT's coaches have noted freshman early enrollee Justin Coleman's physical presence. Marsalis Teague is fighting there as well.

"We don't have a guy right now that we say, 'We're done at corner,'" Dooley said.

'Mike' Johnson

Austin Johnson seemingly has found a home as UT's middle linebacker spot, which is generally called the "Mike" linebacker. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound senior has just a year at the position under this belt after switching from fullback before last season, but he knows the defense well enough to handle the position's responsibilities and serves as an experienced voice between freshmen A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt on the outside.

"We think he has better production at Mike, but we also feel like he's got the best command of the defense for the calls," Dooley said. "Leadership, that's kind of what you want out of your Mike linebacker."

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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