Tennessee Volunteers Hopeful MarQuez North Catches on Early

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Tennessee freshman wide receiver MarQuez North was the Volunteers’ top recruit and was a bit of a steal for Butch Jones in the week before national signing day. The momentum of his signing has carried over into the 2014 as Tennessee claims the nation’s top recruiting class, but those players are a year away from helping, so what should Tennessee expect to see from North in 2013?

North is a 6-foot-4, 212-pound wide receiver from Charlotte — an area Jones will have to recruit well — and will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact after the team lost more than 80 percent of their receptions from last year.

Gone are receivers Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Zach Rodgers, meaning North has the chance to earn a role in the offense, if not a starting position in fall camp. Tennessee is not hurting for quality replacements for the aforementioned stars at the wide receiver position and although they lack in experience, they don’t lack for talent.

Juniors Vincent Dallas and Jacob Carter, sophomores Pig Howard and Cody Blanc, redshirt freshman Drae Bowles and Jason Croom and freshman Paul Harris offer wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian plenty of options this fall.

Howard had 13 receptions last year to be the team’s leading returning receiver and should be the top option this year, but I’m looking at North to command a role as a top-three receiver as a freshman. When Jones was at Cincinnati, his receivers over the past two seasons — which resulted shares of the Big East title — never relied on one player to be the focal point of the passing game.

That bodes well for North, who should expect to reel in at least 30 receptions this season and serve as a big red zone target. I would expect the targets to be spread around no matter who the team’s quarterback is, although I think it will be Josh Dobbs behind center, and North has the potential to be a go-to guy for his fellow freshman.

North is a bit raw after starting his career in high school as a quarterback who had a proclivity to tuck and run, but after making the shift to wide receiver in his sophomore year, he accumulated 17 touchdowns and 1,244 yards on 56 receptions. Those numbers may look low compared to other top recruits, but keep in mind that he was still learning the position and was used more as a runner at Mallard Creek High School.

Tennessee prides itself on being “Wide Receiver U” and North has the size, speed, hands and big-play ability to follow in the footsteps of Hunter, Patterson, Peerless Price, Donte Stallworth, Alvin Harper and Willie Gault before him.

There will certainly be growing pains along the way, but he is dripping with upside, and Dobbs to North has a nice ring to it. It is something Vols fans should get accustomed to hearing often the next four years.

Patrick’s a college football writer for Rant Sports and radio host on Sportstownchicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickASchmidt and add him to your Google network.

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