DeAnthony Arnett was absent from the stat sheet in Tennessee’s first two games of the season, but the talented freshman wide-out has stepped up in an advanced role now in the Volunteers’ passing game without Justin Hunter.
A 6-foot, 175-pound receiver from Saginaw, Mich., Arnett was one of the most highly rated players in UT’s 2011 signing class, but it took time adjusting to college football and an injury to the Vols’ top playmaker for him to start making an impact on the field.
“I wanted to come in right away (and play),” Arnett said Tuesday in his first media appearance. “I was more anxious than anything. Sometimes I would get so anxious to the point where I mess up. I was just real anxious and when I finally got my chance I responded.”
With Hunter’s season-ending ACL injury, Arnett was forced to play an expanded role earlier than coaches were expecting, but he feels ready to take on the opportunity.
“I’m way more (comfortable now) than I was during training camp or the first two weeks (of the season),” he said. “I feel like I’ve got all my plays down pat. I’ve just got to keep learning and getting better with my practice habits.”
After not catching a pass against Montana or Cincinnati, Arnett became UT quarterback Tyler Bray’s safety valve at Florida on Sept. 17. He caught a game-high eight passes for 59 yards against the Gators while playing in his first SEC road-game.
“DeAnthony is a talented guy,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “He has real good transition. He has good ball skills. He has good feel for the game. His biggest thing right now is playing fast without the ball, and that’s something that all freshmen really struggle with is learning to play fast without the ball. He’s still working on that.”
Arnett said the area he has had to work the hardest on at UT has been blocking, something he rarely did in high school.
“I had to play quarterback most of the time so teams would always try to double (team) me and take me out of the game plan basically, so I didn’t do a lot of blocking,” Arnett said.
Despite not being fully dedicated to receiver until arriving on campus, Arnett is a polished route-runner, especially for a freshman, and his teammates have taken notice.
“He’s just running his routes and he is running them consistently,” Bray said. “He’s not changing the way he’s doing it, so as a quarterback that helps. When a guy runs it one way one time then switches it up the next time, it kind of throws off your timing. Him just keeping his routes consistent has helped.”
Against Buffalo, Arnett caught just three passes for 27 yards, but recorded his first two touchdown grabs. The second one was reviewed by the officials but not overturned.
“(The ball) hit the ground a little bit but I think I got under it enough to where it was a touchdown,” Arnett said.