KNOXVILLE — Marquez North leads Tennessee's receivers with eight receptions in the season's first three games.
Yet the freshman's been quiet enough to make that hard to believe.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound former four-star prospect has eight catches for 69 yards, but he's yet to make a significant impact play.
"He played decent in game one, like a true freshman would play," receivers coach Zach Azzanni said Wednesday. "Game two I thought he took a step backward, and I thought he improved this last Saturday. I really did.
"The things I've asked him to do -- I can't ask him to go out and be [longtime NFL standout] Randy Moss right now. It's just not in the cards yet. But I need him to improve on little things here and there, and I thought he did that. He caught the ball well, he made some plays, he got upfield, got us a first down. We're still lacking the big, big play, though, and that's what we're working on."
North's early highlight was a 23-yard catch that set up a touchdown in the opener against Austin Peay, but he managed just 9 yards on his three catches last week against Oregon. The Vols twice threw him a middle screen, and a 6-yard gain on one of those was wiped out by a holding penalty. On one of his three grabs, North caught a quick pass and picked up a first down on third-and-2.
"Marquez is going through that transformation of a true freshman," head coach Butch Jones said. "He's extremely talented. He's a 4.4-[second] 40[-yard] guy. He can run, he's physical, but he's still learning the nuances of how to create separation and how to get released from the line of scrimmage.
"I see him getting better and better, and that's the luxury we [don't] have, where we have to play true freshmen and they have to grow up in a hurry."
As he is with his entire corps of young wideouts, Azzanni is staying patient with North, who's watched the likes of Alabama's Julio Jones, Georgia's A.J. Green, South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery and Alabama's Amari Cooper have big freshman seasons in recent years.
Not all of those players had big starts to their big debut seasons, though.
In 2008, Jones caught 10 passes for 107 yards in two scores in his first three games, and Green managed seven receptions for 141 yards before before an eight-catch, 159-yard eruption in his fourth game Arizona State.
After catching just five passes for 61 yards in his first three games in 2009, Jeffery blew up for seven grabs, 138 yards and three touchdowns against Kentucky.
Cooper caught five passes for 73 yards in Alabama's first three games last season but finished the season with 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"I think they all do," Azzanni said. "I think we all want them to expect that. We all want them to expect to be an Amari Cooper, a freshman that comes in and has an instant impact.
"We're working out a lot of different areas and a lot of different spots right now, and I just think he's going to keep getting better."
The Vols have tried to get the ball into North's hands via quick throws behind the line of scrimmage, screens and short hook routes, but with its offense still in need of playmakers, Tennessee may have to make it even simpler to get North the ball where he can make something happen.
North was a wildcat quarterback in high school, and he also ran the ball on jet sweeps and reverses.
"We really have a package for all those kids to try to get them the ball different ways," Azzanni said. "Whether or not we use them, or they get called, or the defense allows us to run that, we'll see. But we have a package for all those kids."
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 ...