Vols senior receiver Josh Palmer moves on with star duo now in NFL

Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee senior receiver Josh Palmer stretches out for a catch during a recent practice at Haslam Field in Knoxville.

It wasn't in winter workouts. It wasn't during the spring practice period shortened by the coronavirus pandemic, and it hasn't occurred so far in preseason camp.

Tennessee senior receiver Josh Palmer insists there hasn't been that alerting moment in which he realized that fellow receivers Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings were no longer around. Jennings was a 2015 Tennessee signee, with Callaway signing in 2016, but they are now aspiring to thrive in the NFL - Jennings with the San Francisco 49ers and Callaway with the New Orleans Saints.

"I knew the time would come eventually, and obviously I do miss them just being around, and that's more so their presence off the field," Palmer said Wednesday afternoon on a Zoom call. "I didn't really have that 'Oh, wow!' moment. That 'Oh, wow!' moment - I probably had it at the beginning of last year when I said, 'OK, these guys won't be here next year,' but I do miss those guys."

The Volunteers held their sixth preseason practice Wednesday, which transpired precisely one month before their scheduled Sept. 26 opener at South Carolina. Last year's opener, a loss to Georgia State, was held on Aug. 31.

"I must say, in a lot of ways it kind of throws you off a little bit," senior defensive lineman Matthew Butler said. "When you think about it, you're like, 'Wow. We're a whole month away from the start of the season.' That's definitely not normal, but we're just trying to stay focused on a couple of things that can keep your head straight."

Said Palmer: "At least things are definitely heating up. We're leaving a lot out there, and we're pushing each other really hard. We just focus on what we can control at the end of the day."

Palmer spent much of his first three seasons in Knoxville as a nice complementary piece to the Callaway-Jennings tandem, racking up 66 career receptions for 1,039 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder has 46 receptions that have resulted in first downs and 10 catches that have yielded at least 25-yard gains.

This season, Palmer is the veteran leader of Tennessee's receiving group along with fifth-year senior Brandon Johnson, who opted to redshirt four games into last year's run to the Gator Bowl.

"Marquez and Jauan taught Brandon and me a lot when they were here," Palmer said. "I was fortunate enough to play with them for three years, and they taught me a lot mentally and physically. With their absence, it has paved the way for the way we're coming in now. We're just taking advantage of the opportunity in the receiver room."

Palmer is entering his final year as a stout believer in fifth-year senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano - "Jarrett's confidence has always been through the roof, no matter what you might see on television," he said - and with stability. For the first time in his college career, Palmer has the same offensive coordinator (Jim Chaney) as the season before.

There have been 24 career starts to this point, and Palmer promises he won't be fazed by future starts in front of limited crowds.

"Coming from Canada, where I played high school football, you could count on a single hand the number of people who would come to the games," said Palmer, whose hometown is Brampton, Ontario. "I'm used to playing in front of a lot of people, and I'm used to playing in front of close to nothing. Obviously it's going to be different seeing an empty stadium, but it's something I'm used to.

"We'll still have fans watching and supporting us, and our spirit will be there whether there are fans or not."

Odds and ends

Freshman quarterback Harrison Bailey returned to practice after missing last week for what coach Jeremy Pruitt called "social quarantine." ... Tennessee has been ranked in The Associated Press preseason poll for the 42nd time, which ranks second to Alabama among Southeastern Conference programs.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.