Coming out of spring practice, the Big Orange boasted Austin Rogers (76 career catches as a Vol), Gerald Jones (41 career catches as a Vol), Denarius Moore (25 career catches as a Vol), Quintin Hancock (18 career catches as a Vol) and Brandon Warren (10 career catches as a Vol).
That was 170 career catches among the scholarship receivers - a pretty solid total. Then the countdown began:
- When Rogers went out with a torn ACL the total dropped to 94.
- When Moore underwent surgery on a broken foot, the total slipped to 69.
- When Jones suffered a high-ankle sprain last weekend, the total plummeted to 28 (Hancock's 18 and Warren's 10). No other UT receiver who will line up vs. Western Kentucky on Sept. 5 has recorded a catch in a college game.
The outlook is even bleaker if you consider only what the wideouts did last season. Neither Hancock nor Todd Campbell recorded a reception in 2008, so the Big Orange will start the 2009 season with just one receiver who has caught a varsity pass in the past year.
Given all of the above, it's understandable that first-team quarterback Jonathan Crompton stays after practice each day to put in extra work with the inexperienced wideouts whose development holds the key to Tennessee's 2009 passing game. Often as not, they suggest the post-practice overtime work before the QB can do so.
"Before I can confront them with it, they confront me with it," Crompton said this week. "That's obviously a good thing. We're going to stay after and keep throwing. Everybody's really anxious and really hungry to get better."
Obviously, the more a quarterback throws to a receiver, the better timing they develop. They also develop a sixth sense for knowing what to expect from one another.
"If something breaks down," Crompton said, "they know I'll have the ball there and I know they're going to be there."