It’s no secret Justin Hunter’s season-ending injury is a big blow to Tennessee.
    
It’s also no secret that replacing the 6-foot-4, 195-pound sophomore receiver who had 16 catches for 302 yards and two touchdowns through the Volunteers’ first two games this season is nearly impossible.
    
“Justin, there’s no replacing that,” fellow sophomore receiver Matt Milton said. “When you can just throw it anywhere and get a touchdown, there’s no replacing that.”
    
Instead, the rest of UT’s offense and wide-outs must improve their play.
    
“We are going to have to step up as a whole offensive unit. It shows everywhere,” sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray said. “From my decisions, to the (offensive) line, to the running backs, to receivers, we didn’t play well (against Florida). If we don’t step it up, there’s going to be more games like that.”
   
 Da’Rick Rogers, who was expected to complement Hunter and form one of the best receiving duos in the SEC, now becomes Bray’s go-to target. Against Florida, Rogers caught five passes for 62 yards and a touchdown while garnering more attention from the Gators’ defense with Hunter out; a scenario he’s likely to see going forward.

 “The defenses might shade me a little more, but I have to come out and work hard,” he said. “I have to show the other guys that that is how you have to play the game, because you are only a play away.”
    
Those other guys include junior Zach Rogers, who most likely becomes a starter now, freshmen DeAnthony Arnett and Vincent Dallas, and Milton.
    
Zach Rogers was the Vols’ No. 3 option at receiver, playing in the slot, before Hunter’s injury, but the junior’s experience will allow him to play more on the perimeter.
   
 “I’ve worked more inside over the summer because that is what I wanted to play, but since everything has changed I could play outside or inside,” Zach Rogers said. “I know the playbook, so I will be ready to roll.”
    
When Zach Rogers moved to the outside against Florida, Arnett replaced him in the slot and caught a game-high eight passes for 59 yards, the most by a UT freshman since 2001. He didn’t record a catch in the Vols’ first two games. The same goes for Milton, who nabbed his first career reception, a 12-yarder, in the fourth quarter.
   
 “I liked it, it was pretty cool. My family finally got to see me catch a ball in a game,” Milton said. “I’m just ready to get out there and be productive for the team, especially in situations where we really need a big play. I feel like I can get out there and make those plays.”
   
 But for big plays to happen in the passing game, and for UT’s offense as a whole, the Vols’ running game, which ranks last in the SEC and 105th out of 120 teams nationally, must improve.
    
“Ultimately, the biggest change we have to make is we have to run the football better with or without Justin Hunter,” UT offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “He’s a heck of a good football player, and don’t misunderstand me, he will be sorely missed, but at the end of the day, until we run the football better and attack the line of scrimmage better we are going to struggle. That’s ultimately the point of emphasis.”
    
Bray was sacked three times and pressured on seemingly every snap against the Gators and UT finished with -9 rushing yards.
   
 “It definitely looked like they outworked us,” sophomore right tackle Ja’Wuan James said. “That was the disappointing part. Even myself, at times it looked like they were getting away from us at the end of blocks, guys scraping away at the end making tackles.”
    
Another obvious problem UT’s offensive line had was snapping the ball to Bray when UT was in shotgun formations. Sophomore center James Stone struggled on many occasions, often with the ball rolling on the ground back to the Vols’ signal-caller.
   
 “It’s a product of losing a little focus on that part of your fundamental and that when things get crazy and you’re making calls, you’ve got to always get back to the basics and get back to the snap and everything starts with you,” Vols’ offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said of Stone. “He’s just got to make his call, deliver the ball and play football.”
    
With four sophomores and a junior having started the first three games of the year, the unit is still gelling together and working through the expected growing pains.
   
 “The important thing is that we all take accountability for what we need to do,” Hiestand said. “I, obviously, need to do a better job of coaching them. They need to do a better job playing.”