Tennessee Volunteers Spring Sneak Peek: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

THE DIRECTOR: Third-year UT assistant Darin Hinshaw, who will be moving over to coach wide receivers for the first time since his days at Memphis.

Hinshaw takes the place of legendary wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett, who was forced out [or retired ... whatever you want to believe] after some differences with Derek Dooley. Unlike Baggett, Hinshaw is a tireless and excellent recruiter who helped keep this year's recruiting class together in the wake of all the coaching departures. He also signed the jewel of the class, JUCO WR Cordarrelle Patterson, who will help his unit come summertime. For all of Hinshaw's recruting accolades, he hasn't coached receivers except for the one season under Tommy West at Memphis. It'll be interesting to see how Hinshaw handles the embarrassment of riches he's handed as UT boasts what could be one of the top WR units in the country.

First-year Vols assistant coach Charlie Coiner, who coached tight ends and special teams for the Buffalo Bills from 2006-09 and has been a defensive and offensive assistant on every level.

Coiner is kind of a puzzling hire, and you really don't know what he brings from a recruiting standpoint. One thing you can't question, however, is his experience. He has coached 18 years in college and numerous other years in the NFL coaching everything from linebackers to being an offensive coordinator. His background is diverse, and he will bring a ton of knowledge to the film room.

THE CAST: [Wide receivers] 6-0, 180 Sr. Zach Rogers; 6-4, 200 Jr. Justin Hunter; 6-3, 215 Jr. Da'Rick Rogers; 5-11, 185 So. Vincent Dallas; 5-10, 177 Jr. Naz Oliver; 6-1, 190 ATH Cody Blanc

First off, as for Blanc, I expect him to start out at safety, but who knows with the number deficiencies this spring? This is a massive spring for the future of the Rogers "twins." First off, you have Zach, who is a senior looking to carve his role in an offense that expects to be loaded with talented pass catchers. Then there is Da'Rick, who is blessed with a million-dollar talent and a 10-cent head. Can he mesh with his team and finally grow up? The returns aren't good on that one. Hunter probably will be limited, which leaves Rogers, Rogers and Dallas as the only three viable options that we know of at receiver. Two of them need to make significant strides on the field, and the other needs to off it. Because look at all this premiere talent coming in ...

Coming soon: Cordarrelle Patterson, Alton "Pig" Howard, Jason Croom, Drae Bowles.

[Tight ends] 6-3, 254 Sr. Mychal Rivera; 6-6, 265 So. Cameron Clear; 6-5, 237 So. Brendan Downs; 6-5, 225 Fr. Justin Meredith

This is another talented bunch of pass-catchers for the Vols, especially Rivera, who was brilliant at times last season. He has to get infinitely better blocking, but if he has a good year in the weight room, Rivera could be among the best in the SEC. Behind them, there is a ton of potential, beginning with the former top-ranked player in Tennessee Clear, who really began to come on at the end of last season. It will be an interesting spring to find out who joins Rivera on the field in two tight-end sets, and also to see which of these future potential stars can possibly be redshirted.

Gone is DeAnthony Arnett, who transferred to Michigan State and Matt Milton, who transferred to Louisville.

OFFSEASON BUZZ: Everybody is awaiting the arrival of Patterson -- perhaps the best wide receiver in last year's class -- along with the three prized prep players, but that's not until August. The biggest thing to look for this spring is just how much will Hunter be released to do? Though many will wonder if he's going to be the same dynamic player he was pre-ACL injury, that will likely have to wait. Most reports indicate he won't be full-go this spring. As for Rogers, much like the Janzen Jackson situation last year, we're holding our breath that he can somehow find a way to fit in and not do anything stupid enough to get booted off the team. Unlike Jackson -- who had major off-the-field issues, Rogers' problems lie with his inability to be a quality teammate and participate responsibly in team drills. Hopefully, he'll realize that if he just takes care of that, he's a can't-miss talent. Once the light came on for Clear last season, he really began to show signs of being a perfect jumbo tight end, and all reports are that he has had a terrific offseason and could push Rivera, who was too soft at times last year. There really hasn't been much discussion on Downs and Meredith that I've heard.

THE PLOT THICKENS [THREE SPRING STORYLINES]:

  • How Much Work Will Hunter Do and Will He Be the Same? When I go to sleep at night, I dream of the Cincinnati game ... Tyler Bray flinging the ball around, Hunter and Rogers making incredible plays, leaping in the air and bumping shoulders and everybody having a gay ol' time. Then, I wake up to the harsh reality of the Post-Hunter Injury 2011. And I worry that we may never see it again. Hunter is an all-world talent, so there's a better than good chance that he'll come back and be elite again. But there are the same old lingering concerns. We may not know all those answers this spring, but we will know more than we do now.
  • Will Vincent Dallas or Zach Rogers Be Viable Candidates To Be In UT's 2012 Wide Receiver Rotation? Tennessee's talent at WR is going to be significantly upgraded once the newcomers get here in August, but this is the time for Rogers and Dallas to really get a leg up on those guys. Rogers has talent, but he has been terribly inconsistent and undependable throughout his career. He looks like the odd man out. Dallas wasn't great as a freshman, but he has Denarius Moore-level potential if he can live up to expectations. This spring may be the first indicator on whether he's going to be a nice player for the Vols or just somebody on the depth chart.
  • Once the Pads Go On, Can Da'Rick Change His Ways? The biggest part of me just wants the coaching staff to bite its tongue, turn its back and let Da'Rick be Da'Rick the way Johnny Majors let Carl Pickens and Alvin Harper do what they wanted back in the day. But I also know they cannot afford to do that after the fragility of emotions following last season. It's possible that the staff lost last year's team, and everybody needs to bond together and grow if this team is going to move beyond that. That means having Da'Rick on board, so it's time that he realizes that. If he doesn't, he may not wind up on the team -- and the Vols will be much worse because of it. He needs to get his act straight for his future and for this team. Maybe getting back on the field, having his old hombre Hunter back and UT flinging the ball around like the good ol' days will help more than anything.

CLOSING CREDITS: There are a lot of questions and not a lot of bodies this spring. Most of the receiver storylines are geared toward August with the influx of so much talent from this recruiting class, including an instant-impact possibility in Patterson. This spring will be about rehabilitating Hunter's knee and Rogers' attitude and jelling those guys again with Bray, who hopefully will be much more precise and focused in the offense. It's also a big time for guys who'll fill out UT's rotation next season.

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