As Kodi Burns took the job as wide receivers coach at Tennessee, he was stepping into a position where he had plenty of talent surrounding him, even if the players were young. The Vols were returning some key parts to their outside group, looking to build upon a flash of playmakers and veterans.
As with most cases, he knew this would be a project to get his younger playmakers up to speed when it came to the type of offense they were installing. But, don’t let the numbers fool you, this Tennessee roster is filled with a mixture of raw talent and veterans. As spring practice has gotten underway, Burns understands that it will be a process when bringing along a group of players still looking for experience.
“We’ve got to really bring those guys along,” Burns told the media on Tuesday. “They’re all very talented. Right now, I’m really focusing on developing those guys, teaching them how to practice, how we do things at Tennessee, how to play up-tempo, simple things that we call ball mechanics. We’re teaching those guys how we play. There’s no question that all four have talent. We’ve just got to truly grow them and develop them into the wide receiver position.
“A guy like Malachi Wideman was a dual-sport athlete as a basketball player who also played football. Then, you talk about the two Jimmy’s (Jimmy Calloway and Jimmy Holliday), both of those guys were quarterbacks in high school. Really, it’s just about translating those skills to the wide receiver position. It’s my job to develop and bring those guys along.”
One of the positive situations that Burns inherits is the veteran leadership of senior Velus Jones Jr., who has taken his role as the leader of the group. As the Vols get their younger players more involved in the scheme and playbook, it’s key to have someone with the experience that Jones brings to the table.
“When you talk about leadership, those guys have a lot of time on task,” Burns said. “Now, you’re walking into a really young group. I think by default and just by personality, time on task as far as him starting at a different school and coming here to Tennessee and doing the same thing, Velus Jones Jr., has kind of stepped up and emerged as one of those guys that can truly grow these young guys. He can teach them how to practice, teach them what the standard is and what we’re looking for. He’s really taken right after me as far as what I’m asking and teaching those young guys exactly what we’re looking for. He’s done a good job thus far.”
But for Burns, he has had the luxury of playing quarterback as well, just like previous wide receivers coach Tee Martin. Being able to teach his group what to do on the outside, but also let them know what the quarterback is thinking at the same time will benefit this young receiving core. As with any new offense, it will take time for the group to get up to speed on the pace in which they will play. But with the Vols, they’ve got a few players making the transition from behind center, to being targeted down the field.
“My story is very similar to a couple of guys that we have on our team right now,” Burns said. “I was a quarterback my entire life. That’s what I did. That’s who I was. I had never caught a pass in my life. Once I was a junior in college, I actually ended up moving to wide receiver. That transition for me was not that difficult because I understood coverages. I understood the run game. I understood the pass game. I understood leverage. I understood what defenses were trying to take away and do. That made me more knowledgeable as a player. I had to teach myself how to catch, which I did. I ended up starting in the league, but I think the transition from quarterback to wide receiver is very simple, from the standpoint of a knowledge aspect of the game.
“For me with my coaching philosophy, I like to teach the wide receivers the position as a quarterback, because I think it makes you a better wide-out when you truly understand the game as a quarterback and not just what you do. Understanding the big picture makes you a better player overall.”
So, as the Vols receiving core gets to know the playbook and timing of the offense, it’s only going to benefit them to have a coach who understands exactly what Josh Heupel is looking for, from both position perspectives.