By Alex Norman
Tennessee has long been known as Wide Receiver U. The crop of pass catchers on the 2015 roster hopes to live up to that nickname and make a name for themselves at the same time…
We start with perhaps the most dynamic of the bunch, but a player whose future at Tennessee is up in the air. Senior Von Pearson was second among Vols receivers in catches and receiving yardage in 2014 despite missing significant playing time due to a high ankle sprain. Pearson’s size and leaping ability will likely make him quarterback Joshua Dobbs’s first choice near the end zone. Pearson had five touchdowns a year ago.
However, Pearson was named as the suspect in a sexual assault that allegedly occurred at an off-campus apartment. He is currently suspended from the team, although he remains on the roster. Depending on whether or not charges are brought in this case, the decision that Tennessee head coach Butch Jones will make with regards to Pearson’s playing status will be a very big deal. A total of six Tennessee players from the 2014 roster have been accused of sexual assault.
Senior Pig Howard has been steadily moving up in the Tennessee record books, and enters the 2015 season 13th in program history with 111 career catches. He led the Vols in catches and receiving yards in 2014. Howard has also proven to be a threat running the football as well, scoring two touchdowns on the ground last season.
Marquez North was on his way to a solid sophomore season, starting the first ten games of the campaign and catching 30 passes, including four touchdown receptions. But then a torn labrum ended his season in November. North’s size makes him an attractive target for Dobbs.
At 6 foot 5 and 235 pounds, redshirt junior Jason Croom has the look of a guy that could play at the next level. The redshirt junior has shown flashes of brilliance during his first two years in Knoxville, but a dislocated knee cap cost Croom a chance to play in the TaxSlayer Bowl, as well as spring practice. Will this be the year that he becomes a go to force in the Tennessee offense?
Sophomore Josh Malone came to Knoxville with all the hype that surrounds any five star prospect, especially an instate athlete. Injuries didn’t cause him to miss any games, but they did limit what made him such an attractive prospect coming out of Gallatin. Malone had a solid spring practice and should build on his 23 catches from a year ago.
Perhaps the most important returning pass catcher is local product Josh Smith. An ankle injury forced the former CAK standout to miss all but three games a year ago. The good news for the Vols is that they were able to get him a medical redshirt. That means Smith has three years of eligibility remaining. He has great speed and has shown the ability to make big plays in this offense.
Among the newcomers keep an eye on 5-star recruit Preston Williams from Hampton, Georgia. He is still recovering from a knee injury he suffered during his senior season at Lovejoy High School, but is close to being back at 100 percent. He could make an immediate impact and remember, Jones has had no fear in playing young players right away.