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Heupel: Jalin Hyatt is ‘dramatically different’ from last season

Changes were needed, and they were made.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Jalin Hyatt's 2021 season was a bit of a disappointment. The electric receiver with freaky speed was a popular candidate to breakout as a sophomore, playing in Josh Heupel’s high-octane offense.

However, that was derailed after Hyatt suffered an injury against Pittsburgh. Even when he came back and was healthy enough to play, he was pretty clearly out of the top receiver rotation.

Heupel might have just given us the reason why that happened — and how Hyatt has fixed it.

“Even in the middle part of last year, his focus and attention to detail, he understood that it needed to change," Heupel said on Monday. "And he started making those changes. Dramatically different from the time that we got back in January."

The 6-0, 180 pound burner caught just 21 passes in 2021, putting up 226 yards. That was a decline from his freshman season, where he burst onto the scene with a couple of big plays against Alabama.

Seniors Velus Jones Jr. and JaVonta Payton were firmly ahead on the depth chart last season, but both have now exited the program. Who’s going to step in and be the No. 2 option behind Cedric Tillman? Most agree — it’s Jalin Hyatt’s job to lose.

“We talked earlier about guys that have changed their body — he’s added a ton of size and strength, maturity to his frame,” Heupel said. “I think that’s gained a lot of confidence from him, how he plays with a physical presence. That can be in one-on-one matchups, it can be blocking on the perimeter, it can be the way he presents himself and finishes plays when he has the ball in his hands, too. All of those factors give him the ability to have a big year for us this year.”

Hyatt did end 2021 on a high note, catching a touchdown in the bowl game against Purdue.

The former four-star prospect fits exactly what Tennessee likes to do. His speed is something that defenses will absolutely have to account for, which should also take some pressure and attention off of Tillman.

Tennessee has to have another couple of receivers step up and really emerge. So far, it seems like Hyatt is doing all the right things to be one of those guys.