Hunter: NFL preseason reunion another reason to wonder what could have been for UT in 2012

Justin Hunter knows the question is going to come up.

The fact that he and former University of Tennessee teammate Cordarrelle Patterson will be at LP Field with their respective NFL teams for a preseason contest (7 p.m., WKRN-TV Ch. 2) is a perfect reason for someone to ponder what might have been for the Volunteers two years ago.

After all, Hunter and Patterson were supposed to be two-thirds of a dynamic receiving trio in 2012. It turned out that they were a two-man band when Da’Rick Rogers got in trouble and played that year at Tennessee Tech. He too is in the NFL, as a member of the Indianapolis Colts.

Then again, someone is just as likely to raise the issue because it’s a Thursday.

“I get that question all the time,” Hunter told the Nashville Post this week. “We’re all in the league and what-not. … There could have been some good things in the offense, I feel like. We would have probably had (Patterson) at running back a few times. We would have had so many looks it would have been hard to stop us.”

Hunter and Patterson were among the top 35 players selected in the 2013 draft. The Titans traded up to take Hunter in the second round (34th overall) while the Vikings made a deal to get an extra first-round choice, which it used on Patterson (29th overall).

Rogers made it into the league the hard way, as an undrafted free agent. He earned playing time late in the year and this season he reportedly factors prominently into the Colts’ offensive plans.

A look at how all three have fared since the end of their college careers:

2013 regular season: 18 receptions, 354 yards, 4 TDs
2014 preseason: 8 receptions, 164 yards, 2 TDs

2013 regular season: 45 receptions, 469 yards, 4 TDs
2014 preseason: 8 receptions, 118 yards, 1 TD

2013 regular season: 14 receptions, 192 yards, 2 TDs
2014 preseason: 3 receptions, 67 yards, 1 TD

The 2012 season was Patterson’s only one at Tennessee after two years as a junior college All-American. Hunter returned that fall after having played just three games the previous year before he sustained a serious knee injury. Rogers tied the UT record for touchdown receptions in a season (10) in 2012 but then did not get the chance to follow it up – or to work in concert with the other two NFL-caliber pass catchers.

The Volunteers finished 5-7 overall (1-7 in the SEC) and coach Derek Dooley was fired.

“Of course, it frustrates me but you have to move on from it,” Hunter said. “We adjusted during the year when Da’Rick wasn’t with us. I think we adjusted pretty well but I just know we could have been better than what we (were).”