Tennessee Vols offensive coordinator Alex Golesh spoke to reporters on Thursday evening — after UT’s final practice before the Orange and White game on Saturday — and he revealed that there’s an offensive player that’s been a “big surprise” this spring.

“Walker Merrill has been an incredibly big surprise in terms of we just had no idea coming in,” said Golesh on Thursday. “He’s mature beyond his years both as a player and the way he handles how he approaches the game.”

This isn’t the first time that Merrill has been praised by the new Tennessee coaching staff.

Vols head coach Josh Heupel had plenty of positive things to say about Merrill after Tennessee’s scrimmage last weekend.

“He plays extremely hard,” said Heupel of Merrill. “He is smart, competitive, knows where he needs to be. As much as anything, it matters a great deal to him, and that pushes him and drives him, whether that is in the meeting room or catching extra balls off the Jugs machine during his spare time. Whether that is running extra routes, that is how he approaches everything he does.”

“He has urgency, it matters to him, he wants to be great, and he is going to be a special player as his career continues to go on,” added Heupel.

Merrill is a former four-star recruit who signed with the Vols in December and enrolled in January.

Former 247Sports director of scouting Barton Simmons — who now serves in a general manager role at Vanderbilt — evaluated Merrill in early 2020.

From 247Sports:

Athletic wide receiver frame with the size to play on the outside, be a factor as a blocker and shrug off tacklers as a runner. Above average athlete with twitch to his game. Hasn’t posted elite speed times but has shown top end explosive testing with vertical and long jumps. Plays with toughness after the catch, fighting for yardage. Brings value in the return game. More athlete than receiver right now. Regularly lets the ball into his body. Limited route-tree with a lot of hitch and screen catches. Needs refinement but has the body type and athletic profile to emerge as a productive Power Five starter with NFL potential.

Simmons also compared Merrill to former Vols wide receiver Zach Rogers.

Merrill is a true freshman, so he obviously has a lot of work to do in the coming months. But it sounds like he’s on the right track to be a key player for the Volunteers under Heupel.

Featured image via Tennessee Athletic Communications/Rivals

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