KNOXVILLE — While he was playing junior college football in Kansas and going through the recruiting process, Cordarrelle Patterson kept an eye on the prospective schools he might choose to attend.
When the touted receiver watched Tennessee, he saw two quality second-year receivers atop the depth chart and target count.
Instead of scaring him away, the presence of Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers attracted Patterson.
"Watching those two guys just made me want to come here and be with those guys and compete," the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder said last week. "Coach [Derek] Dooley said good players don't care who they have, they just come in and compete ... and if you're a good player you want to compete with the best. That's what I want to do."
Now the Volunteers need Patterson to do more than compete.
Rogers, Tennessee's leading receiver from 2011, was suspended indefinitely Thursday, just eight days before the Vols' season opener against North Carolina State in Atlanta, for violating team rules. Dooley said the Vols aren't expecting the junior to return, calling a reinstatement "very unlikely."
One source inside Tennessee's football program told the Times Free Press on Friday that Rogers' locker was cleaned out Thursday.
Injuries to Hunter and quarterback Tyler Bray derailed Tennessee's season last fall, and the Vols have spent the offseason emphasizing a similar impact from an injury or suspension this year.
"We have all through since January developed and planned for any contingency, and I mean that, whether it was Justin, whether it was Da'Rick, Tyler Bray," Dooley said Thursday. "It's like I said: The lesson from last year was not being held hostage by an injury or two, and the deeper you are the more talented you are at every position, that's when you can better handle all these contingencies.
"I'm not saying we're there — we've still got a lot of young guys, inexperienced guys -- but we're prepared for it."
How prepared Patterson is to produce immediately is the biggest question, along with Hunter shaking off the rust of having not played since tearing an ACL nearly a year ago. Veteran Zach Rogers and freshman Cody Blanc, a Knoxvillian who enrolled in January, currently hold the third and fourth spots on the depth chart. Drae Bowles is the only other healthy freshman, with Alton Howard (foot) and Jason Croom (hamstring) recovering from injuries.
Tennessee still has a solid option in tight end Mychal Rivera and a ground game that coaches and players feel will be improved, but Patterson's performance likely will go a long way in determining if the Vols miss a beat or not without Rogers.
"CP's still getting a few wrinkles out," Bray said. "Nothing real major, just little things. We'll be fine.
"He's big-bodied kid [who] can go up and make the plays that we need. [He's] fast. He knows what's going on, knows what we want, and he's just a good receiver."
When Patterson finished his academic work at Hutchinson Community College and arrived in Knoxville, he said his first stop was the office of receivers coach Darin Hinshaw. The goal was simple: Get the smooth, talented wideout as familiar with the Vols' offense as possible. A month of studying preceded three weeks of training camp, where Patterson truly began figuring it out.
"He's got the size; he's got the speed; he's got the ball skills. I think he's got the competitive character, and our biggest challenge is helping him play fast by knowing what to do and to react," Dooley said. "He's never been in this environment.
"It'll be some growing pains, and same with Justin. Justin's going to have to knock some rust off. He hadn't played since the second game a year ago. That's a long time, now. We just assume he's going to get out there and look like Lynn Swann or somebody, and it doesn't go like that. He's going to be rusty — game speed's different — and we're going to have to stay patient."
Patterson might need some of that patience as he makes his own adjustments to playing at the big-time college level.
"He's going to be a little nervous, obviously — first game, big atmosphere," Zach Rogers said. "But we'll talk to him. I think he'll be ready to play.
"He's ready for the lights to come on. I can tell it from practice every day. He'll be ready to go."
Tennessee will need Patterson to be ready.
"He's a fast guy, he can run like the wind and he can play well against press coverage," cornerback Prentiss Waggner said. "I wouldn't say he's as ready as he needs to be right now, because we haven't really played a game. But I think once he gets his feet wet and once he gets up out of there and gets all those butterflies out of the way ... I think he'll be fine."
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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