Tennessee’s offense returns an abundance of production from Josh Heupel’s first season in Knoxville. However, the Vols have to replace an abundance of snaps at wide receiver after posting record numbers a season ago.
Leading receiver Cedric Tillman is back after becoming the first Vol to record 1,000 yards in a season since Justin in 2012. However, Tennessee loses its top two receivers behind him in JaVonta Payton and Velus Jones Jr.
That trio played the bulk of Tennessee’s reps last season and because of that the Vols return 60% of their receiving yards and 56% of their receiving touchdowns.
The most obvious candidate to leap into a bigger role is rising junior Jalin Hyatt. The South Carolina speedster has flashed in his first two years of Knoxville tallying a touchdown and 86 yards against Alabama as a freshman before recording 226 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore.
While Hyatt’s talent and potential is obvious, he’s failed to show the consistency needed to be a go-to receiver.
Still, his talent and speed makes him an obvious candidate to replace Velus Jones Jr. in the slot and Heupel raved about the junior on Saturday.
“Jalin Hyatt has made a huge jump. He has a different mindset, a different focus and because of that, different work habits,” Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said. “He had an unbelievable offseason for strength and conditioning before we got to competing on the grass. He’s continuing to get better playing in competitive situations, understanding how to do the things that we want to do at the wide receiver position and playing without the football in his hands. He’s become a much more physical football player since he’s changed his body. Those two things go together hand in hand, and gaining confidence, that shows up in the way that he’s played.”
Former high school quarterback Jimmy Holliday has failed to make an impact in his first two years in Knoxville catching just one pass in five years. Still, the Mississippi native is off to a strong start to his second spring practice and is looking to make the most of his increased opportunities.
“Jimmy Holiday has been doing some really great things as well,” Heupel said. “The competition is going to be ongoing at the wide receiver position. Those guys have got to all continue to grow.”
While Tennessee returns a handful of receivers that have earned limited opportunities in Knoxville including Jimmay Calloway and Ramel Keyton, there are opportunities available for Tennessee’s freshmen receivers.
The Vols signed four receivers and in the 2022 class and all four enrolled early and are on campus for spring practice. Kaleb Webb is the highest rated receiver in Tennessee’s class, but others have stood out early in spring practice.
Chas Nimrod has earned praise from offensive coordinator Alex Golesh and teammates, but it was Marquaris White who turned heads in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“I thought Squirrel (Marquarius White) did a really good job out there today,” Heupel said following Saturday’s scrimmage. “He made multiple plays and operated really efficiently. It didn’t feel like the tempo or the game was too fast for him at any point. It was a really positive day for him.”
Tennessee landed a commitment from “Squirrel” in July before the receiver’s recruitment blew up during his senior season. White’s known for his elite speed and both Georgia and Auburn came after the Alabama native hard before signing day.
Tennessee freshman WR Squirrel White has some 𝙒𝙝𝙚𝙚𝙡𝙨… 👀💨 pic.twitter.com/oOynq9J9Xh
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) April 5, 2022
The Vols held on to White and it appears to be paying dividends this spring.
Tennessee is without many of its top defensive backs this spring, but the Vols’ receivers are standing out in spring practice and are easing concerns with the loss of Jones and Payton.