KNOXVILLE – When he met with the media more than two weeks ago, Tennessee’s Jim Chaney unwittingly offered a preview of Saturday’s Orange & White Game.
“We are not reinventing the wheel here,” the Vols’ first-year offensive coordinator said then. “Jauan (Jennings), Marquez Callaway, Brandon Johnson and Josh (Palmer) are playing good ball.”
UT’s veteran wide receivers played good ball to conclude spring practice before an announced crowd of 50,967 at Neyland Stadium. Jennings, Callaway and Palmer combined for 10 catches for 143 yards and three touchdowns for the White team in its 28-10 victory over the Orange.
They achieved their production within the context of typical spring game that was very basic in its scope.
“They’ve been throwing some crazy stuff at us,” quarterback Jarrett Guarantano said. “So it was very vanilla.”
Jennings, a redshirt senior, had five catches for 57 yards and two touchdowns. He jumpstarted the White’s first scoring drive with a 31-yard catch on a slant route. His best TD catch arguably was in the third quarter when he went up over a defender in the right corner of the end zone to snag a 7-yard pass.
“Last year he had knee surgery and we didn’t know if he was going to be on the team,” UT coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “He’s come a long ways and he has a long ways to go. He has to continue to work on all the little things that have helped him have success in the past.”
Of Callaway’s two catches, one covered 52 yards on a deep throw from Guarantano up the left sideline.
Palmer, who was named the most improved offensive player of the spring by the coaching staff, had three catches for 25 yards and a touchdown. His TD catch, a one-yarder, came in heavy traffic in the back of the end zone. He finished with an impressive 20-yard catch-and-run play in the fourth quarter but took a hard hit on the play and had to be helped to the sideline.
First-year assistant head coach Tee Martin, who works with the wide receivers, praised Palmer earlier in the week for the 6-foot-2 junior’s progress and potential.
“Josh has really improved this spring,” Martin said. “I’m really impressed with where we started 13 practices ago and then where we are right now. I’m really excited about a summer with him, knowing what the potential and capabilities are for a young man like him.”
Thanks to the catches by Palmer and his teammates, the White team's Guarantano received the game’s most valuable player award. The redshirt junior was 19-for-37 passing for 198 yards and four touchdowns.
As for the defense, inside linebacker Shanon Reid had 10 total tackles (eight solo) and broke up a pass for the Orange.
“He’s a runner and a hitter,” Pruitt said. “When he knows what to do, he has a chance to be successful. … His negatives have been not knowing what to do at times. That’s something he can control and he’s working hard at it.”
Fellow linebacker Daniel Bituli, who was named the most improved defender of the spring by the coaches, lauded Reid for his improvement.
“He’s a hard-working guy who’s eager to learn and get better,” Bituli said.
Defensive back Jaylen McCollough, a freshman early enrollee, intercepted two passes for the White. One came on a nice break on a pass from fellow freshman Brian Maurer. McCollough broke up another pass and had seven tackles.