There’s an opening for playing time behind Cedric Tillman at the wide receiver position, both in the slot and on the perimeter. This battle has been well-documented throughout the spring and now the fall, as Josh Heupel sets up his offensive attack for year two.
Adding another layer to the plot, Tennessee is also breaking in a new wide receivers coach. Kelsey Pope got the call up to replace Kodi Burns, which was the only replacement hire Heupel had to make during the offseason. Pope has been tasked with developing the next group of Tennessee receivers, two of which will replace Velus Jones Jr. and JaVonta Payton.
When asked about who has stood out in that battle, Pope was quick to mention Jalin Hyatt first. However, the second name he said may surprise you.
“Squirrel White has been phenomenal,” Pope said.
White, the electric 5-10, 160 pound freshman, has easily generated the most buzz of the newcomers at receiver. The three-star receiver wasn’t all that highly ranked by recruiting services, but Tennessee had to fend off Georgia to land him in the 2022 cycle, if that tells you anything.
He’s now trying to find the field in game one.
“He’s not slow, that’s for sure,” Heupel said earlier in camp. “Squirrel is competitive, really smart. Mature in the way he handles himself in the building and in the meeting room. Physically, taking care of his body. His ability for the game, not to be moving too fast. Really almost from day one in the way that he’s handled what we do offensively.”
White’s blazing speed, agility and acceleration make him an obvious candidate for some sort of role within the offense. The glowing reviews from the coaching staff in regards to him picking up the offense are huge positives as well.
The question with Squirrel is — can that small frame hold up? What can the coaching staff do to help him out, but still utilize him?
“A guy like that, you have to play in your wheelhouse,” Pope said. “Squirrel is not the world’s strongest man. He’s probably never will be. He knows that. He could definitely be the world’s fastest man. So you play within your wheelhouse. And that would be different with a guy like Ced Tillman, right? His strength is his physicality. You want him to embrace that and play to that.”
Expect a small role for White to open the season as the staff gets a playmaker on the field. From there, we’ll see where his role goes as he gets more comfortable.