KNOXVILLE -- It's as if Tyler Bray got the first two picks for a game of backyard football, used them on the two most athletic receivers and looked primarily in their direction all day.
At least that's what it looked like for Tennessee's quarterback in the Volunteers' season-opening win against Montana last week. Bray connected 11 times for 246 yards and two scores with fellow sophomores Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter.
"When we're playing like that," Bray said this week, "we're a hard team to stop."
Bray trusted and relied on seniors Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones to make plays for him at the end of last season. He proved he has the same trust in Rogers and Hunter by targeting them on 15 of his 26 throws against the Grizzlies.
Other than the two throws that went to receiver Zach Rogers, the rest went to tailback Marlin Lane (four), fullback Channing Fugate (three) and tight end Mychal Rivera (two).
"There's some throws where they might be guarded," Bray said, "but if I just throw it up and get them an opportunity, they're going to make the catch."
With inexperienced depth at receiver and a running game with numerous questions, Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers might have to continue carrying the bulk of the receiving load when Cincinnati visits Saturday.
"We're going to find out week to week," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "They're good football players, so they demand the football in a lot ways. Fortunately we got the ball to them."
Coach Derek Dooley showed no qualms about giving the two as many tries as they can handle -- "That guy's good, throw it to him," he said -- but receivers coach Charlie Baggett would like to see more support from the other receivers.
"I'd like to have as many I can able to play," Baggett said. "I was telling the young guys I'd like to see them play more, but they're in the same situation that Da'Rick and Justin were in a year ago. [We] slowly brought them along and got their feet wet; then at the end of the year they had more playing time.
"I think it's going to be a very similar situation to what they were in a year ago with [freshmen] Vincent Dallas and DeAnthony Arnett and some of the other young guys that are trying to get some playing time."
Chaney said he'd also like to get Rivera more involved. Bray threw in the junior's direction twice against Montana, and both passes ended as interceptions negated by pass-interference penalties.
"We had balls called to him, but the structure of the defense took the ball to other places," Chaney said. "It's just one of those games for him. It's very similar to Luke [Stocker] last year early in the season: The plays we had rolling toward him didn't materialize. Hopefully we can get Mike more involved and keep spreading the wealth around.
"We'd rather not be two-dimensional, but they're good players and they're going to demand the ball."
Eventually Hunter and Rogers are going to demand more attention from defenses as well. The Vols have planned for that by moving the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Hunter among the three receiver positions.
It's a challenging chore for a sophomore who was exclusively a deep threat as a freshman and spent a chunk of his offseason as a high- and long-jumper on UT's track team, but Baggett, an 11-year NFL coaching veteran, is confident in Hunter's ability to match his physical gifts with his progress mentally.
"We have to find ways to move him around so people can't key on him," Baggett said. "I think his capacity is unlimited. I hate to get too excited about young guys too early, but he's a guy that really excites me. I think he can handle a lot, I really do.
"I think he's played a lot of ball, but if you look at it, he's really young. I'm excited about the fact that we can give him more: We move him in the slot, we put him outside, we put him in the one-back, one-receiver set. He can do a lot of things; I think he can handle it."
As impressive as Hunter has been, the Rogers from Calhoun, Ga., was the five-star recruit the Vols stole away from the home-state Bulldogs. He had more carries than catches last season, but Rogers had a big offseason and made an impressive debut that was just par for the course.
"Coach Dooley said before the game," said the 6-3, 215-pounder, "there's nothing to be nervous about, you practice this; this is just like practice; this is what you do; just go out and perform like you've been performing."
With the oft-injured Zach Rogers and two true freshmen directly below Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers on the depth chart, the depth at receiver is concerning.
"I am worried out there," Chaney said. "Our depth comes with some young kids, and as we continue to try to be competitive schematically, they've got to pick up their game as far as the learning, and that is a concern. But what the heck, everybody in football has the same problems."
But few teams in football have two talents at receiver like the Vols do with Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers, and UT will need them to be productive.
"The more and more we practice, the more and more we know each other," Bray said, "the better it's going to be."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...