published Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Mark Wiedmer: Vols receivers 'Earth, Wind and Fire'?

Tennessee quarteback Tyler Bray attends the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days in Hoover, Ala.
Tennessee quarteback Tyler Bray attends the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days in Hoover, Ala.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray isn't biting. At least not yet.

The rest of the Big Orange Nation may already be so excited to see the Vols trot out big and gifted wide receivers Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Da'Rick Rogers that it is floating nicknames for the trio such The EZ3 (for end zone), T(rey)D and the players' personal favorite: Earth, Wind and Fire.

The threesome is expected to score so many touchdowns that the checkerboard end zones could even become the Tri-light Zone.

But Bray would like to see some production before he labels them college football's version of the Miami Heat.

"They don't need anything added to their big egos," Bray said Saturday with a grin. "Let's play a game first."

The Volunteers played a fake game of sorts Friday night. The 6-foot-3, 206-pound Rogers caught a 31-yard touchdown pass in the scrimmage. The 6-4, 200-pound Hunter caught one 6-yard pass as he rounds into shape from last year's knee surgery. The 6-3, 205-pound Patterson caught two balls for 42 yards, including one 32-yarder.

"They're about as good a group as I've seen," said cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley, who was coaching defensive backs at Alabama last season. "If I could compare them to another group, I'd say Arkansas's wideouts last year. But those guys were small, quick and fast. Our guys are bigger; they can go over the middle better."

And just in case UT loyalists needed a reminder of how good the Razorbacks receivers were, they had three touchdowns and 245 receiving yards in a 49-7 win over the visiting Vols.

"How good are they?" replied fifth-year senior defensive back Prentiss Waggner, a probable All-SEC pick at the end of the season. "Think [former Alabama star] Julio Jones and [former Georgia great] A.J. Green on the same team with one more star, and that's how good Da'Rick, Justin and CP can be."

Can be and will be are two different things, of course. The offensive line must give Bray time to throw. The running game must be stout enough to keep the defense honest. Unlike a year ago, when Hunter was lost for the season three games along, Earth, Wind and Fire need to all stay healthy.

Still, it's difficult to find anyone in Orange other than perhaps Bray who isn't ecstatic about the trio's potential to more than erase two straight losing seasons and five years removed from UT's last SEC East title and a spot in the league's title game.

"Those guys aren't normal," Waggner said. "Da'Rick's big and strong and can catch it in a crowd — great hands. Hunter can run all the routes. CP's a mixture of the two — run like the wind with great hands. Strong, too."

Waggner was asked if he'd been burned by any of the three, especially since Rogers told the media Saturday during the team's preseason media day that Waggner was the team's toughest defender.

"CP burned me for a touchdown on a post pattern a couple of days ago," he said of the juco transfer. "Each and every practice you see him making great strides."

It is reasonable to ask why Patterson — widely regarded as the nation's best juco wideout last season at Hutchinson, Kan. — would come to a place where juniors Hunter and Rogers already had made such names for themselves.

"Less pressure," Patterson said. "I wouldn't have to be the one guy everyone was keying on. I thought we could really be good with the three of us."

Patterson could wind up putting plenty of pressure on UT opponents without either Hunter or Rogers on the field, however. He averaged 48.2 yards a kickoff return at Hutchinson last season, returning three for scores.

As for the Internet lobbying for "Earth, Wind and Fire," Rogers has no objections. He even sees himself as Earth, Hunter as Wind — "because he's so thin" — and Patterson as Fire.

Patterson sees himself as Earth, Hunter as Wind and Rogers as Fire. Hunter agreed with Rogers' choices but added, "We could just be the Big Three."

With the real Earth Wind and Fire churning out such hits as "September" and "Shining Star" back in the day, its catalogue would seem a pretty good fit for the EZ3 as they prepare for their Aug. 31 season opener inside the Georgia Dome against N.C. State.

Just don't try pushing such a marketing package on Bray.

"As long as we're getting wins, I'm not worried about stats or nicknames," Bray said. "We've put up plenty of stats around here the last few years. We just want to win games this season."

Win enough of them and the entire UT team will become a singular shining star for the whole Big Orange Nation to enjoy.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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