KNOXVILLE - Charlie Baggett has coached receivers in college and the NFL since 1977.
Only once, though, has Tennessee's receivers coach experienced a sight similar to watching Justin Hunter, Baggett's pupil and the Volunteers' star wideout, crumple to the turf early in UT's loss at Florida.
Baggett was with the Houston Oilers in 1993, and leading receiver and Pro Bowler Webster Slaughter went down with two torn ligaments in his knee late in the season. Hunter's torn anterior cruciate ligament, Baggett admitted, affected him more.
"It was kind of a new experience," he said after Wednesday morning's practice. "Justin's one of my favorites. I think the team knows Justin was a big part of what we do and who we are. Somebody's got to step up.
"I think they'll take the challenge, and we have to see who will."
The Vols must rely on freshmen receivers DeAnthony Arnett and Vincent Dallas earlier than they might have preferred, but the young duo's lone option is to respond. Baggett said they've done that during the last two weeks of practice, but the first test of how ready they are to share in the efforts of replacing Hunter comes Saturday when UT hosts Buffalo.
"These guys have shown maturity," Baggett said. "I'm excited about what they can do. I told them in the meeting this morning: one of the things I woke up to this morning thinking about the game was I'm excited to see how well they play. It's going to be interesting and fun for me to stand over there on the sidelines and see young guys perform."
Arnett responded in the immediate aftermath of Hunter's injury, catching eight passes against Florida on mostly short, quick-throw routes. Dallas made his first career catch just plays after Hunter's injury, and he has the advantage of enrolling in January and spring-practice experience.
But spring practice doesn't always translate to Saturday success, and the Vols will begin to see Saturday how to use Arnett and Dallas, along with starters Zach Rogers and Da'Rick Rogers. Rajion Neal and Matt Milton could figure into the mix as well.
"Each one of these guys does something different," Baggett said. "That's the part I'm talking about, what I want to see them do.
"[Offensive coordinator Jim] Chaney has been trying to figure out in practice here what strengths they have, what to do, what personnel groupings to put each guy in, what plays to run with each guy where you can sort of put them in a position to succeed instead of asking them to do something right away that they can't do."
Tennessee announced that Hunter underwent successful surgery on his knee Wednesday, and he's expected to be back in time for spring practice.
Coach Derek Dooley finally ended the suspense on Wednesday. Freshman tailback/return specialist Devrin Young will make his collegiate debut on Saturday, but Dooley refused to specify where, when and how.
"He's going to get an opportunity to get out there, and we'll see how he looks, how he feels and how he does [decides] how much," Dooley said.
Young, a Knoxville native, is listed as a co-starter with freshman tailback Marlin lane at punt returner and one kick returner spot. Dooley flirted with the idea of playing Young at Florida, but ultimately opted against it.
"It sounds good, just throw him in there and see what happens," Dooley said. "But it's not fair to the player to put him out there before I think he's ready. He's had the benefit of that week, an open week where we worked him very hard and then a good week this week."
Strong safety Brent Brewer entered the season as one of the Vols' sure things on defense, but defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said Brewer was pressing too much last week. Defensive backs coach Terry Joseph went a step further Wednesday.
"He has a reputation of being an enforcer and a big hitter," Joseph said. "It's one thing to have a reputation, but it's one thing to put it on film also. I think he's underperformed the first three games, I think he'll say that he underperformed and I'm telling him that he needs to play better if he wants to remain in the top four or top five [in the secondary].
"I think he's responded well. I'm anxious to see how he's going to play this weekend."
There was nothing new on the injury front during Wednesday's practice. Linebacker Herman Lathers (ankle, out indefinitely) and receiver Naz Oliver (wrist, out for season) ran on the side, and special-teamer and reserve linebacker Raiques Crump was limited.