Justin Hunter's progress 'monumental'

Justin Hunter's progress 'monumental'

September 6th, 2011 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Justin Hunter (11) looks back for Montana defenders as he makes an 81-yard touchdown run during the first quarter of play.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Derek Dooley would prefer to find a third and fourth option for Tennessee's passing game, but there's certainly nothing wrong with the first and second options.

Sophomore receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers combined for 246 yards and two touchdowns on 11 catches in the Volunteers' season-opening win against Montana on Saturday, and quarterback Tyler Bray targeted the duo on 15 of his 26 throws.

"If we can feed it to those two about 15 [times] a game, we won't have to [find other options]," Coach Dooley said at his weekly news conference Monday. "If they start taking that away, we're going to need some other guys."

Zach Rogers was the only other receiver to catch a pass. Fullback Channing Fugate and freshman tailback Marlin Lane combined for five catches.

"What I don't want to do is say, 'Hey, we don't want to show a tendency that we're throwing to Justin Hunter,' and then throw it to these other guys and they make 5 yards," Dooley said. "I'd rather just feed it to the guy as long as he can catch it. It's kind of my back yard in me: That guy's good, throw it to him. They've got two on him? Well, give it a shot anyway. If they stop it, then we'll think about something else."

Hunter has developed from a role exclusively as a deep threat into more of an all-around receiver. The 6-foot-4 track star added almost 15 pounds to his frame, which has helped him from a physical standpoint.

"The progress he's made in the last eight months has been monumental," Dooley said. "He's got very gifted physical skills and he's worked at it. We just had him at one position last year. We're moving him around ... because we think he's going to be one of those guys that everybody is going to try to take him out of the game, so we have to figure out ways to generate some throws to him."

Rolling nine

The nine-man defensive-line rotation the Vols used Saturday night failed to register a sack, but though they still managed seven quarterback hurries and plenty of hits, that wasn't enough for Daniel Hood.

"Not saying anything bad about Montana, but it's always going to be about us and what we do," the sophomore defensive tackle said. "I feel like we should have affected him more -- we have more talent. It is tough. The D-line, that's what we live for.

"It was good to see a bunch of the line get a few good hits on him. That's nice, but the goal of every game is to get a bunch of sacks. I think we'll make improvements on that."

Dooley said the Vols operated well with their substitutions Saturday, and Hood said the linemen were rotating every three or four plays.

"I think it helps us to have a lot of guys, but part of the reason we do that is because we don't have a lot of really good guys," Dooley said. "With these spread teams, there's so much lateral running and chasing the ball, you've got to keep fresh guys in there.

"I think every good defense, though, they have three good inside guys and three good ends, so you're rolling at least six guys."

Dirty dozen

UT played 12 freshmen in Saturday's game, some more than others.

"We're probably not done there," Dooley said. "What was pleasing about that class was you didn't see them panic and be so wide-eyed they couldn't perform. They had a nice calm about them. That was good."

Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson became the first true freshman linebackers to start a UT opener since freshman eligibility was reinstated in 1972.

"They had a real solid day, both of them," Dooley said. "Didn't overwhelm you with anything they did but didn't make mistakes. They were where they were supposed to be, they fit and I thought that was encouraging. You're always worried the first time they're out there. I think they're just going to get better and better."

Status updates

Defensive tackle Maurice Couch is day-to-day with a knee sprain.

Freshman Devrin Young will be re-evaluated next week. The tailback and return specialist broke his collarbone before preseason camp and returned to practice last week but hasn't been cleared for full contact.

Linebacker Herman Lathers had two of the 11 screws removed from his fractured ankle, and the Vols hope he'll return in another four to six weeks.

Odds and ends

The Vols hope to get Rajion Neal more involved in the offense, whether it's at tailback or as a slot receiver. ... Multiple areas must improve for the Vols to run the ball better, but Dooley cited a "lack of commitment" to it Saturday. Montana confused the Vols up front, causing UT's young offensive line to play hesitantly. ... Dooley said the use of both Matt Darr and Michael Palardy on punts was planned depending on the situation. Palardy has better operation and more experience, he added, and Darr has "big-leg talent."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.