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KNOXVILLE - If Quintin Hancock played basketball at the University of Tennessee, his timing would be fortuitous.

But Hancock plays football, so his timing is frustrating.

Wide receivers aren't typically celebrated for peaking in March Madness, but spring practice has provided many of Hancock's biggest highlights.

To be fair, Hancock has had his moments when it mattered. But not recently.

After catching five passes for 111 yards and three touchdowns in UT's last five regular season games of 2007 - including a 40-yard, game-winning score in the fourth overtime at Kentucky - Hancock didn't record one reception last season.

Not one.

Hancock hoped his big 2007 finish would catapult his practice field performances into the Southeastern Conference. As he said, though, "that's not how it turned out."

"I didn't do so well last year," he said matter-of-factly. "You just hope that everything happens for a reason, and that if you keep working hard, good things will happen."

That plan has worked this spring. First-year UT coach Lane Kiffin and his staff offered every player a clean slate, and the staff has grown increasingly confident that Hancock is capable of filling a major void in the offense - a big receiver.

Hancock has never been a speed-burner, but the 6-foot-3, 207-pounder has always been one of the Vols' strongest and more sure-handed targets. Kiffin has valued those commodities since building his prolific Southern California offenses around players with similar skills.

The Vols might not have a Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett or Patrick Turner, but their coaches are happy with Hancock to this point.

"He can give us that big body we weren't sure we had," receivers coach Frank Wilson said. "Even with this year's signing class, we didn't sign a big receiver, and we had some concerns about that.

"Quintin can play all three of the positions, so obviously he's a very smart young man. The one thing we just didn't know what his physical toughness, and we challenged him on that. And last Saturday, he was outstanding. He was the most physical player on the football field, and he's been consistent with that the last few practices. He has in it him."

Today, UT's first major scrimmage this spring, will present Hancock and his teammates another opportunity to jolt up the depth chart.

Hancock might start alongside teammate Gerald Jones if the season started today - his diving catches have helped all three potential starting quarterback the past few weeks - but the Vols don't host Western Kentucky until Sep. 5.

"Every day is an assessment," Wilson said. "One time isn't good enough. He needs to continue to do it, day after day. Our depth chart is etched in sand, and it can change any day and everyday, if you're not consistent. We keep pushing him, but he's been answering."

Kiffin said Hancock was "playing really well," and he didn't seem concerned with the player's previous struggles to translate practice success to the game field.

"Whatever happened before was a different time." Kiffin said. "I know what he's done since we've been here, and we're really excited about it, and we expect nothing except for him to continue to get better."

Quarterback Jonathan Crompton - another Vol who has become known for practice field stardom and Saturday slip-ups - said he had "total confidence" in Hancock.

"He's being physical," Crompton said. "He's making plays. He's making the catches, the blocks. He's picking up the offense really well. Right now, that's all you can ask for, especially at this time, when we're still installing everything.

"I think he's had a really productive spring so far."

But that's happened before.

The next step has been the problem.

"I've just got to get the opportunities to show what I can do, and I think I'll be all right," Hancock said. "I've got to go out there and give it my all, because this is my last year."

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