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Tennessee wide receiver Marquez North looks on during the Vols' open practice at Neyland Stadium on Aug. 15, 2015.

KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee welcomed wide receiver Marquez North back to practice this week.

The Volunteers would welcome a fully healthy version of the junior when the season starts in nine days.

North, arguably Tennessee's most talented receiver, missed a little more than a week of practice after tweaking his knee earlier this month, and he's returned to practice this week, albeit sometimes in a non-contact green jersey.

"He's coming along great," receivers coach Zach Azzanni said after Wednesday's practice. "He was out there today and had a great day. We're easing him back in.

"Could he have went 100 percent? Probably. But we have to get him through a season and be smart and get these guys. We still have a week until we play this football game.

"Just getting him back to feeling 100 percent, we don't have to play tomorrow. We've got to play a week from now. I'm going to make sure that he's ready to roll."

North missed the last three games of 2014 due to season-ending shoulder surgery. The 6-foot-3, 229-pounder out of Charlotte caught 14 passes in Tennessee's first three games and just 16 in the next seven. In 10 games he had 30 catches for 320 yards and two touchdowns.

After an injury-riddled 2014 season, Tennessee's receivers have battled some minor bumps and bruises this preseason.

In addition to North, Pig Howard was limited for a few practices, Josh Smith has missed the last three practices and Jason Croom has been in and out of practice as he works his way back from a knee injury he suffered during bowl practices last December.

Tennessee's coaching staff has been pleased, though, with the progress of the passing game even with some key parts missing, as other receivers, namely Jauan Jennings, Josh Malone and Johnathon Johnson, have picked up the slack.

"I think we're finding our identity in the pass game," said Azzanni, who was promoted to Tennessee's passing game coordinator this offseason.

"We've had a lot of receivers in and out of different positions. I've been rotating through. We've had some bumps and bruises and guys not practicing for different reasons, as y'all know and have documented.

"It was hard in the middle of camp, during those grind days, to figure out who we are and who we can be. I think these last five or six practices we're finally settling in on who we can be in the pass game. I think we had a really productive day today."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

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