KNOXVILLE — Much was made of the Tennessee Volunteers' receiving corps entering this season.
The trio of seniors Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings and junior Josh Palmer — paired with junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, senior tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson and new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney — had the group projected to be one of the best in the Southeastern Conference.
Things don't always go as planned, though. Guarantano was ineffective early in the season, continually missing open targets. Jennings was good, but Callaway and Palmer were sometimes forgotten as they struggled to see the ball coming their way.
Somewhere along the way, the team's mentality changed all over the field. The Vols' results at quarterback, despite situations dictating the use of multiple players at the position in recent games, have been solid lately — and it has only enhanced the results at receiver.
Jennings has been solid all season, with 50 catches for 771 yards and seven touchdowns, and the emergence of Callaway and Palmer helped the Vols (5-5, 3-3) win four of their past five games going into this week's open date that will be followed by a trip to Missouri on Nov. 23 and the home finale against Vanderbilt on Nov. 30.
Callaway has 218 yards on nine catches with two touchdowns in the past four games, and he has three 100-yard performances this season after having only one prior in his Vols career. Palmer has 134 yards on 11 catches in his past four games and had his first touchdown catch with the Vols, an acrobatic 15-yard reception, in last Saturday's comeback win at Kentucky. On a pass thrown by Guarantano, Palmer was able to contort his body and get a foot down in the end zone.
"Marquez and Palmer have great abilities, and I wasn't surprised to see them step up the way they did," Jennings said Wednesday. "They do it all the time in practice, so to see them go out there and do it in a game it means a little bit more. Just knowing that they have the skill set to do so, it wasn't that surprising."
Guarantano's slow start played a part in concealing what the receivers could do, but the emergence of freshman Brian Maurer and redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout as viable options at quarterback appeared to push Guarantano to step his game up. Now all three scholarship quarterbacks have made plays to benefit the passing game and the receivers.
"We just try to do what we can do, either receiving, rushing or blocking," Callaway said. "Whenever our number is called, we're just trying to make a play, but the whole receiver group is having fun."
Callaway also expressed excitement for Palmer's touchdown, but the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder who made the highlight catch simply said it comes with making plays. The quarterbacks are giving the receivers a chance to do that now.
"We compete every day with the DBs, and we go into every game thinking we're trying to take responsibility for what we can control," Palmer said. "We hold our own, but I know the receivers are trying to compete every day and trying to make those plays in the game."
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