KNOXVILLE — The emphasis was clear. One look at Tennessee’s 2012 football signing class reveals it.
With the addition of four receivers, including a talented junior college wideout expected to immediately provide another weapon, to a group that already includes two stars, it appears the Volunteers are gearing up for more shotgun and more five-wide sets in an increased aerial attack.
Not so fast, said coach Derek Dooley.
“We signed three running backs, and we signed another tight end,” he said. “What we’re tying to do is get a lot of playmakers and depth because we can’t have an injury and the whole season goes south. We’ve got to have a lot of good football players.
“We’ve got a lot of receivers; we’ve got a lot of tight ends. It reared its ugly head last year. You lose one guy here and one guy there and your whole season’s down.”
The final season statistics provide the proof for how thin UT was at receiver last season. Justin Hunter finished third among receivers in receptions and third overall in receiving yards despite suffering a season-ending knee injury early in the season’s third game. DeAnthony Arnett, the only other somewhat productive receiver behind All-SEC performer Da’Rick Rogers, transferred to Michigan State last month.
Thus it’s not surprising the Vols focused so much of their recruiting efforts on that particular position. How UT was able to pull in a receiver class that was ranked first nationally by 247Sports, though, might be more impressive. Even with the departure of esteemed receivers coach Charlie Baggett less than a week after the Vols’ disappointing season ended in an embarrassing loss to Kentucky, UT was able to pull in a quartet of four-star prospects, according to Rivals.com.
Jason Croom, the 6-foot-5 basketball player, provides the class’s biggest target, though Drae Bowles may be the group’s most physical player. The 5-9 Alton Howard provides the group with a smaller, speedier player that can be used in a variety of ways.
Cordarrelle Patterson, the jewel of UT’s entire class, has the speed, size and explosiveness that made him a five-star player according to 247Sports.
What Dooley certainly hopes is the added depth can overcome what happened to his team this year, when Hunter’s early injury (and one later to quarterback Tyler Bray) so greatly handicapped UT’s offense.
“[You’ve] got to have a lot of good football players to win in this league,” the coach said. “Other teams get injuries, too, and you can’t go blaming every year on an injury. You’ve got to go put the next guy in and go win. That’s what we were trying to do.”
Given their talents, Hunter and Rogers certainly are candidates to leave UT early. Their presence at the top of the depth chart might have had less of an influence on Croom, Bowles and Howard, a trio of high-school All-Americans. For Patterson, however, it might have been different.
Bray targeted Hunter and Rogers so heavily when all three were healthy that it had to be a factor during the recruitment of the 6-4, 205-pound Patterson. The Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College receiver could have picked a school like Georgia or Ole Miss and been the top passing target from the beginning. It clearly wasn’t enough, though, to overcome the relationship he built with UT assistant Darin Hinshaw, who will coach receivers after handling quarterbacks last season.
“I think nobody thought we would get CP because of what we have coming back, but you know what I found? Great players don’t care who you have because they have confidence in their abilities,” Dooley said. “I tell our guys we’re going to have great players every year, and if you’re scared to come in and compete, you don’t need to be here. You need to go to some other school.
“I also say to be a great team you need a lot of great players, and I sell that to our team and they do a great job of recruiting because of that. When you’re a good team and [have] a lot of good players, that’s what it takes to be a champion.”
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 ...