Another world-class wideout

Playing back-to-back-to-back games against Georgia's A.J. Green, Alabama's Julio Jones and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery - arguably the three finest receivers in college football - is an awesome task for Tennessee's defensive backfield.

In fact, the Vols' secondary coach can think of only one challenge that might be similarly imposing.

"Yeah, facing Mariano Rivera, Roger Clemens and Cy Young," Terry Joseph said with a laugh.

Through a bizarre fluke of scheduling, Joseph's DBs faced Green in Game 6, Jones in Game 7 and will be facing Jeffery in Game 8 this weekend at Columbia. Green burned the Vols for 6 catches, 96 yards and touchdown on Oct. 9. Jones torched them for 12 catches and 221 yards last Saturday. Containing Jeffery will be just as difficult. The Gamecock sophomore leads the SEC in receptions per game (7.0) and yards per game (121.1), ranking second in touchdown catches (6). He's a big-play guy, too, as his 17.3 yards-per-catch average attests.

At 6-4 and 237 pounds, Jeffery isn't as fast as Green (6-4, 205) or as nimble as Jones (6-4, 220) but he knows how to use his heft to his advantage.

"He's such a big, physical player," Joseph said. "He creates space - not only with his speed but with his strength and his body. You can be in a perfect position but he can use his size and his power to get himself in position to make a play. That's the toughest thing about dealing with a guy like that. You can be there, and he can just physically out-man you."

The Vol aide described Green as "a pure route-runner. He puts his foot in the ground (to change direction) probably the best of those three guys. He's more of the sleek, fast, stretch-the-field type of receiver.

"Julio's probably in between the other two. He can go downtown but he can also get the third-and-four by getting position and bodying you. All of 'em have great characteristics."

Asked if there is one common thread among the three superstar receivers, Joseph laughed and replied: "Yeah, they all played Tennessee in back-to-back games."

Turning serious, he added: "Obviously, when their teams needs a play, that's where they look. They're all great playmakers."

Facing three playmakers of such skill in successive October games is a chore but it's a chore Joseph accepts philosophically.

"Obviously, it's been a month with some great players," he said. "But when you come to the SEC you're going to play against the best in America every week. With our schedule, unfortunately, we had to face those guys in back-to-back-to-back weeks."

Already exposed by Green and Jones, Tennessee's secondary likely will be exposed again by Jeffery. Still, Joseph wants his young defensive backs to remain upbeat.

"I've been telling 'em the last month: There aren't any better receivers than what you're going against," the Vol aide said. "I think that is going to be a skin on the wall for these guys here in the near future."

Even though Alabama riddled Tennessee for 326 passing yards last Saturday, Joseph sees signs of progress among his troops.

"I've said since August that the more snaps we play the better we'll get," he said. "We'll get more confident, more relaxed. As we continue to play, I think we'll do more playing instead of thinking. You can see the kids becoming a little more comfortable with the scheme and playing in the SEC."

No doubt Vol defensive backs will become even more comfortable once they stop facing the likes of A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Alshon Jeffery each week.

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