HOOVER, Ala. — With the hype continuing to build around his receivers trio, Derek Dooley delivered a small warning.
Tap the brakes, the Volunteers' coach said Thursday morning at the Southeastern Conference's annual media days.
"It's getting a lot of publicity," Dooley said of the combination of Da'Rick Rogers, Justin Hunter and newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson, whose potential has Vols fans salivating. "That's a good thing. [It] means we have some talent there.
"We really only have one guy that's gone through 12 games and been productive in the league. We have a lot to prove. We have some ability, but we haven't really proven we can do it."
Even with three different quarterbacks and the nation's fifth-worst rushing game, former Calhoun (Ga.) High School star Rogers led the SEC in receptions (67) and finished second to departed Arkansas receiver Jarius Wright in yards (1,040) and touchdowns (nine) last year.
The junior caused a stir when rumors flew that he was suspended, and he missed one spring practice amid speculation he was transferring to Georgia State. Yet it's been quiet on the Rogers front since, and the 6-foot-3, 206-pounder might be in the best physical shape of his UT career.
"He's a little faster than he was," quarterback Tyler Bray said. "He still was fast last season, but he's more agile. Da'Rick's always going to have that personality. That's how he is. He's a great receiver."
Hunter showed glimpses that he might be the better of the duo, but the lanky 6-4 junior tore up his knee against Florida. He was more productive and healthy than expected in spring workouts and cleared a mental hurdle in his recovery. Hunter said in the spring he'd be 100 percent by the start of summer workouts in June.
Patterson was the nation's top-rated junior college player and recently arrived on campus with a mountain of expectations. He's 6-3 with a combination of Rogers' strength and Hunter's athletic ability.
"He's the physical receiver like Da'Rick, but he can also jump like Justin," said Bray, who's always quick to point out his comfort level with senior tight end Mychal Rivera. "He's the real deal."
Bray suggested Thursday he might have the nation's best receiving corps.
"I've got three guys that are 6-foot-2 and above. They all run 4.4s [in the 40-yard sprint] and jump 37-and-above verticals," he said. "It's kind of hard to compete with those guys.
"That's the big question: Are we going to have enough balls to go around, right? With the offense we do, we're going to spread the ball out."
Dooley's second question in the main interview room Thursday was about Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, the sophomore who will be the Vols' starting left tackle. The agile 6-foot-6, 332-pound giant was the state's top-rated recruit in 2011 and already has been making an impact for UT.
"He came in this spring further along than I anticipated from a knowledge standpoint and from a dependability standpoint," Dooley said. "What Tiny brings is he has incredible energy. He just walks in that huddle and energizes the place. He certainly has a long way to go [because] he hasn't been out in the fire."
Happy to be here
Right tackle Ja'Wuan James isn't the oldest player on UT's offensive line, but he got the media-days call anyway.
"It meant a lot, like a big privilege, a big opportunity to come and represent my team and be the voice of everybody in our locker room," said James, a 25-game starter who's just a junior. "I just appreciate the opportunity, and I'm just trying to have fun today."
The Vols sent senior Dallas Thomas to media days last season.
Defensive end Dante Phillips said Wednesday night he has signed scholarship papers with UT. The four-star recruit signed with Florida in February but was denied admission there despite clearing the NCAA's clearinghouse. After visiting Western Kentucky, Phillips was on UT's campus earlier this week.
"I just liked the situation with Tennessee right now," Phillips told Knoxville's WNML radio station. "It's a beautiful place. I've never been anywhere like it. I'm a Florida boy and I've never been anywhere near Tennessee before, so for me to walk outside and see a big ol' hill in front of my face [was] just different."
The final step in the process is admission to UT. There's no timetable on that. In the meantime, Phillips is working to trim 35 pounds off his 6-6, 330-pound frame and counting down the days to the Gators' visit to Knoxville in September.
"It didn't upset me that much because God does things for a reason," he said. "Maybe this is where I'm meant to be. Florida wasn't meant for me, so I just found a new home."
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 ...