Clutch performer Jennings ready to lead Vols’ WR corps
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings wants to be known for more than the two memorable catches that made him a household name in his home state last year.
Jennings scored the go-ahead touchdown that helped Tennessee end its 11-game losing streak to Florida and followed that up by making a 43-yard Hail Mary reception as time expired in the Volunteers’ 34-31 victory at Georgia . Those highlights solidified Jennings’ credentials as a big-play performer, but he must develop into a reliable No. 1 target now that former teammate Josh Malone has left for the NFL.
“It’s not really a whole lot of stress,” Jennings said. “It’s just a responsibility you just have to grow up and own.”
Jennings is the only returning Volunteer who caught more than two touchdown passes last year. He must adjust to an expanded role as he waits to learn who’s going to be throwing him passes. The 25th-ranked Volunteers haven’t announced a starting quarterback for the Sept. 4 season opener with Georgia Tech as junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano compete for the job .
The question about Jennings never involved his ability to deliver in the spotlight. The concern was consistency.
“He’s as competitive as anyone we have on this football team,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “I wouldn’t go to battle with anyone but him. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody. (On) game day, I know what he’s going to bring to the table. It’s been getting to game day, understanding the importance of practice reps, working on your craft and all the things that are associated with driven players and great players.”
He’s answered some of those questions this offseason. Jones jokes that Jennings used to be “allergic to the weight room” but now loves going there.
“I have a better feel for the game from the receiver’s position,” Jennings said. “I can’t wait to just show it. There’s a lot of hard work that’s gone into this year. It will be presented soon enough.”
Jennings had plenty to learn about being a receiver because he’s still relatively new to the position. The junior from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, arrived in the spring of 2015 as a quarterback prospect but moved to receiver that summer. He had a breakthrough season last year with 40 catches for 580 yards and seven touchdowns.
Offensive coordinator Larry Scott believes Jennings saw himself as a No. 1 receiver long before his big year. Jennings possesses the boldness and competitiveness of a big-time wideout.
Those traits became apparent against Florida and Georgia. First he got behind Florida’s Teez Tabor for a 67-yard touchdown that helped Tennessee erase a 21-3 deficit. When he was asked a week later where his Hail Mary reception against Georgia ranked among his career highlights, Jennings grinned and said he’d put it behind “burning Tabor.”
“The guy just wants to be great,” receivers coach Kevin Beard said.
Yet when he talks about goals for this season, Jennings doesn’t mention any individual statistics.
“I’m a competitive guy, (so) nothing less than an SEC championship,” Jennings said. “But besides the championships, there’s really nothing. If we’re winning championships, individual goals come along with that.”
Jones has been “very, very pleased’ with Jennings’ offseason approach and notes how the junior has mentored Tennessee’s younger receivers.
“He’s definitely a guy that we all can go to,” sophomore receiver Brandon Johnson said. “If I have questions, he’s very intelligent about the game. He knows everything about the offense, defenses. ... He’s like another coach, honestly.”
Those younger receivers look up to Jennings because they know what he’s accomplished. They want to know the secret behind Jennings’ ability to produce in clutch situations.
Jennings has a simple explanation.
“First and foremost, it would be confidence in yourself and confidence in your team as well,” Jennings said. “You’ve just got to have confidence your guy is going to put it in the right spot. I don’t worry about anything. It’s just straight confidence in my teammates and myself.”
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