Tennessee Vols' Marquez North looking to become 'ballcarrier'

Tennessee Vols' Marquez North looking to become 'ballcarrier'

September 12th, 2013 by Patrick Brown in Local - Breaking News

Tennessee freshman wide receiver Marquez North has impressed coaches and teammates with his maturity and ability to pick up the Vols' offensive scheme since joining the team.

Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Just two games into his college career, Marquez North already made a catch that earned him a spot in SportsCenter's Top 10 plays on ESPN.

The Tennessee freshman receiver caught five passes for 60 yards against Austin Peay and Western Kentucky, but the 6-foot-4, 215-pound former four-star recruit has yet to show what he can do after the catch.

The Volunteers certainly hope to see that side of North's game on Saturday at second-ranked Oregon, but there's two things that need to be done for that to happen: the freshman has to fine-tune the details of his routes, and quarterback Justin Worley has to make an accurate enough throw that North can do what perhaps he does best.

"Part of that is him not running the right depths, maybe the breaking points are poor -- that's why Justin can't turn him into a ballcarrier yet because he's not allowing himself to be a ballcarrier," Tennessee receivers coach Zach Azzanni said following Wednesday afternoon's practice.

"He's not exactly where he's supposed to be and he's not there how he's supposed to get there, and that comes with experience and more technique and just getting better. He was a running back most of his career. People forget that. That's what he really was his senior year as well."

As a senior at Mallard Creek (N.C.) High School in Charlotte, North compiled more rushing attempts (45) than receptions (20) as he played some wildcat quarterback and ran the ball on jet sweeps and reverses.

At Tennessee so far, North has caught three of his passes on hook routes, and on his 23-yard grab against Austin Peay, he was tackled immediately after the catch 4 yards from the end zone. Last week against Western Kentucky, North stopped his route and got his hands under an underthrown pass by Worley and tipped the ball back to himself with his right leg, all while lying on his back.

North would like to catch a pass with a chance to make a play with his feet, and he's certainly hoping to get that chance on Saturday.

Wideout worries

If Pig Howard, who missed practice on Wednesday, can't play against the Ducks, Tennessee could be down two slot receivers with Devrin Young (broken hand) already on the shelf.

Johnathon Johnson, the 5-foot-9, 176-pound junior college transfer, would take over in the slot. He's caught four passes for 70 yards this season, including a big 37-yard reception against Western Kentucky.

Should Howard be unable to go, the Vols possibly could start three receivers -- North, Johnson and either Jason Croom or Josh Smith -- who have never caught a pass in college game before this season for their first road game.

"The good thing is I think coach [Butch] Jones has done a great job of preparing us," Azzanni said. "You guys are at practice. It's chaos, a lot. The reason it's like that is to prepare them, hopefully, as much as we can for games like this.

"This league is crazy as it is, and being able to go to Oregon, and let's be honest, it's SEC environment, an SEC caliber team, so this is going to be a great, great test on where we're at with that stuff."

More on Mo

One day after he left practice for what Jones called an overheating problem, defensive tackle Mo Couch was implicated in a Yahoo! report as one of five SEC players to receive extra benefits from former Alabama defensive end Luther Davis, who is alleged by a source "with ties to the NFL agent community" to have acted as a middle man between the players and multiple agents and financial advisers, according to the report.

Couch walked through Tennessee's Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex as Tuesday's practice ended with a towel on his head, and he did not return to practice on Wednesday.

Jones said during his weekly radio show on Wednesday night that Couch wouldn't play at Oregon.

"Mo Couch had an injury in practice with heat exhaustion, and he didn't even practice today due to that heat exhaustion," Jones said. "We expected him back, but he couldn't go. Right now it looks like he probably won't even be able to play, and that's all injury-related."

A senior in his third year at Tennessee, Couch received $1,350 in four Western Union transactions from Davis in May, June, August and November of last year, according to the Yahoo! report, which included documentation of the receipts.

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, Mississippi State defensive lineman Fletcher Cox and Mississippi State receiver Chad Bumphis -- all of whom either left college or ran out of eligibility after last season -- also were named in the report.

It's possible Tennessee may elect to keep Couch from playing in games while this issue regarding his eligibility remains unresolved, but at the very least, it appears the Vols will be short one more defensive tackle against Oregon.

That means more snaps for Trevarris Saulsberry, the redshirt sophomore who's rotated in for third-down passing situations the past two weeks. Marlon Walls could slide from end to tackle if necessary, and redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien also could see more snaps behind starters Daniel McCullers and Daniel Hood.

Jones' response

Tennessee's coach briefly addressed the Yahoo! report during his radio show on Wednesday night.

"Well, the only thing I can comment on right now is what we've done since we've been here, and we take great pride in our personal growth and development, the football program that we have in place, our agent compliance and our agent education, but our rules compliance as well," he said.

"We have a compliance officer right in our football office, and they meet with our football team on a regular basis, and I think that's the cornerstones of our football program. Everyone and every person has a track record, and I think if you look at our track record, of myself and our coaching staff, it speaks volumes.

"All I can tell you is this: We're well aware of it, we've been educating our players since the minute we've walked in the door and we'll see what happens."

Tennessee's program is on NCAA probation until August 2015. The original probation would have expired last month, but the NCAA extended the Vols' probationary period two more years for recruiting violations by former assistant coach Willie Mack Garza that were found following Tennessee's main NCAA case, the one involving former football coach Lane Kiffin and former men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl and his staff.

As part of those most recent sanctions, handed down last November, Tennessee cannot provide complimentary tickets to football recruits on unofficial visits for the Georgia and South Carolina home games next month.