Tennessee lost many of their play-makers from the 2016 season this offseason, especially in the passing game. Josh Malone is now in the NFL, as is the pass catching threat of Alvin Kamara out of the backfield. The Vols need someone like Marquez Callaway to have a big sophomore season.
The first catch of Callaway’s career came in the Vols’ homecoming game against Tennessee Tech last season. And it would end up being his only catch of the season.
But Callaway showed elite athleticism in the return game, taking a punt 62 yards to the house against the Golden Eagles.
He won’t wait until homecoming to make an impact this year.
“There’s a lot of opportunity out there. We just come everyday trying to learn the playbook inside and out,” Callaway told reporters Tuesday night after practice. “We have a lot of talent on the offensive side. The big plays are going to come. We just have to work, study the playbook more and get in the weight room.”
Callaway is vying for playing time with a myriad of young players at his position. Several other sophomores are battling with him, as well as redshirt freshman Latrell Williams and a handful of true freshmen too.
The Vols have their work cut out for them at wide receiver this year Kevin Beard has to replace ample production from both the aforementioned Josh Malone and Alvin Kamara in his first year in Knoxville. And that’s not to mention the fact that there’s a new quarterback throwing them the ball too.
Callaway says the younger guys are leaning heavily on veterans Jauan Jennings and Josh Smith in the receiver group.
“They are always hard on us,” Callaway said. “If we don’t know our stuff they’re the first ones on us.”
Off the field, Callaway says the young corps of receivers are helping each other. They study the playbook together in a dorm room on a regular basis. Callaway said he’s not just studying the offense, but also the defensive playbook as well.
“We go over the coverage and a lot of defensive stuff,” Callaway stated.
That’s a big reason why Callaway is ready to contribute more in 2017. He claims he understands the game “100 times” better than he did when he arrived in Knoxville a year ago.
“It’s slowed down a lot,” Callaway added. “Coming in, with everything coming at us, we didn’t know what was going on. But learning the playbook, it’s slowed down. (The picture) is 100 times clearer.”
Jennings and Smith aren’t the only player-coaches pushing Callaway and the younger offensive players. He said that John Kelly is a loud voice to the entire team, not just his running backs.
“He’s one of the shortest, most fun and most spirited guys I’ve met here,” Callaway said about Kelly on Wednesday. “Not just on the field, but in the weight room too. He’s just one of those guys then when you see him, you’ve got to smile. He’s just short and strong.”
The former four-star recruit needs to have a breakout season in order for Tennessee to be successful on offense. For now, he’s likely slotted in as a starter in a four wide receiver set. If he makes an impact in that role over the first couple of weeks, he can quickly become a go-to guy for a first year starting quarterback as the season progresses.