It’s no secret the skill positions will carry the weight of the offenses success this season for the Vols with an entirely new offensively line stepping to the forefront.
Luckily for Tennessee, they signed two of the nation’s premiere receivers over the offseason in Von Pearson, who already has a sports center top 10 play, and Josh Malone, who led the way for the Vols in their annual spring game in April.
Both Pearson and Malone will greatly compliment rising sophomore Marquez North, who carried the Vols passing game a season ago along with returning junior Alton “Pig” Howard.
Howard took a leave from the team during spring camp, and most believed he wouldn’t be back. However, after meeting with the players counsel to discuss his return, Howard was allowed back onto the team and has already began working out with the team again (For more info on Howard’s unexpected absence, click here.)
Howard will no doubt have his work cut out for him to remain a prominent player in the Vols’ offense in 2014. Not only due to the additions of Malone and Pearson, who enrolled early and went through the spring practices that Howard did not, but also because of a whole slew of receivers that are putting in a great amount of work to find themselves on the field as well.
Cody Blanc, a rising sophomore, had a very solid spring after coming on strong and finding himself playing more and more minutes towards the end of the 2013 season. However, no one has made more progress at the wide out position than Jason Croom, who at times has been a nightmare for Vols’ defensive backs to cover over the offseason training period.
Croom, who will be a redshirt sophomore this season, is the third tallest player on the roster at 6-foot-5, and has really worked on his hands, speed, and agility off the line over the offseason. His shear power that he already has with his height and 234-pound stature will definitely play to his advantage once fall camp begins.
The Vols will also have the option of using newcomers such as Vic Wharton and Adrian Gamble, who just recently transferred from Virginia, as well as the return of Ryan Jenkins, who sat out last year due to injury, Josh Smith, and Jacob Carter.
Although Butch Jones typically only uses three receiver sets for his offense, the Vols are more than capable to branch out to a five-wide spread and attack opposing defenses with their skill and depth at receiver. The only question marks will be the hands of the receivers’, which have been inconsistent over the offseason, and the arm of the quarterbacks’ and their ability to get the ball to the right/open receivers.
Although Howard was absent for spring camps, he still will most likely be the fourth receiver in line behind North, Malone, and Pearson once the season kicks off. He’ll still have to hold off Croom for the first-man off the bench spot, but Croom may be one of the Vols’ go to targets more so in the red zone rather than out in space which is where Howard is at his best.
In order, look for the Vols’ top five receivers to be North, on the outside, Malone, on the outside, Pearson, in the slot, Howard, in the slot, and Croom, on the outside when he’s in, in 2014.
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