With zero returning starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, Tennessee may be short on big uglies up front.
It isn't, however, short on playmakers.
Wide receiver Marquez North returns for his sophomore season on Rocky Top after catching 38 passes for 496 yards and one touchdown in 2013 for the Volunteers.
Now, he has help.
The duo of Josh Malone (6'3", 202 lbs) and Von Pearson (6'3", 181 lbs) enrolled early to battle for playing time as freshmen. From the looks of it, Pearson—who spent last season at Feather River College in Quincy, Calif.—has been making waves in practice, including the one-handed, highlight-reel catch from yesterday's session posted by Tennessee.
This is nothing new to Pearson, who has been making catches like that since the start of spring practice.
"He is ultra-talented, there is no doubt about it," wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni told Jason Yellin of UTSports.com. "He makes acrobatic catches just like he did at Feather River, he's made a couple here the last couple of days."
Wes Rucker of 247Sports wasn't surprised by the catch.
To everyone buzzing about #Vols' Von Pearson's catch today: He and Marquez North are making catches like that every practice. No lie.— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) March 14, 2014
That's huge for the Vols, because the combination of North and Pearson will put stress on a defense and not only challenge defensive backs but force safety help to slide over, which opens up some running lanes for running backs Marlin Lane and Jalen Hurd.
Plus, for a team that has had a four-man quarterback race going on for nearly a full calendar year, having two wide receivers who can be counted on to bail out quarterbacks on bad throws is a luxury most teams don't have.
On top of that, Pearson appears to be winning over his coaches and teammates.
"He comes every day with energy and passion," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian told Yellin. "Frankly, it's pretty infectious. I love being around him. He's a guy that the other newcomers have rallied around to try and get the lay of the land. Not so much that he's a junior college player, but just his life experience."
Keep an eye on Pearson and the entire Tennessee wide receiving corps as spring progresses. Quarterback issues will linger, but if the depth chart at wide receiver is settled by the start of fall camp, it will allow the quarterbacks to grow despite not getting a full serving of first-team reps.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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