Good debut for frosh wideouts

Tennessee's highly touted, eagerly anticipated freshman wide receivers -- Jayson Swain, Robert Meachem, Bret Smith and Bill Grimes -- showed enough flashes in Tuesday's opening preseason workout to suggest that they just might be as good as their hype.

Swain, compared to former Green Bay Packer star Sterling Sharpe by Vol aide Woody McCorvey, is a powerful physical specimen with good hands and a nice burst of speed. He dropped a couple of catchable balls Tuesday but also made some dandy grabs.

Meachem, physically at least, is reminiscent of former Vol Carl Pickens -- tall, lean and athletic. He has a smooth stride and caught the ball exceptionally well.

Smith, at 6-3 and 175, appears a bit thin for SEC football but he moves with the speed and grace of a gazelle. He seems to be the smoothest of the rookies.

Grimes, the only member of the wideout class who wasn't a prep All-American, may be the most physically imposing of the quartet at 6-4 and 205 pounds. He was a sleeper last February but his raw ability suggests the Vols were wise to take a chance on him.

All four freshmen have a lot to learn before they're ready to contribute, of course.

''Their heads are spinning,'' head coach Phillip Fulmer said. ''Things are happening a lot faster than they've ever seen happen before.''

The head man added the UT staff ''may have to limit the package some'' to accommodate the newcomers' unfamiliarity with the offense but added that the Vols will ''get them as ready as we can.''

Though high on his rookie receivers, Fulmer noted that two of UT's finest receivers of recent vintage, Peerless Price and Donte' Stallworth, were non-factors at the beginning of their Vol careers.

''Peerless Price, I remember distinctly, was on the scout team a couple of weeks into the season,'' Fulmer said. ''And Donte' wasn't close to being ready to play as a freshman.''

Of course, the Vols weren't as desperate for big-play receivers when Price and Stallworth were frosh as they are now. This year's freshman wideouts will be brought along as quickly as possible.

''Give 'em time and let 'em learn,'' Fulmer said. ''They're talented. Meachem and Swain, you can tell, have some talent.''

Wide receiver coach Pat Washington must've noticed that talent because he was even more upbeat than usual following the first workout.

''What you see was what you thought you were going to see,'' he said. ''You've got guys who are physical enough to handle press coverage. As they get stronger and quicker, they're going to be able to do a lot more stuff.

''They're physical enough to do it, and that's the key. It's not necessarily how much a guy bench-presses. It's the core strength inside. These guys have good core strength.''

And, just as importantly, they have the agility to turn short gains into big gains ... something UT wideouts rarely accomplished last fall.

''You could see the quickness and acceleration,'' Washington said. ''A couple of guys made some catches, then reversed their field or did some things that made you say, 'OK, this is what we want.' ''

Although Washington wants to bring along his young receivers quickly, he understands that he can't force-feed them.

''We, as coaches, have got to make sure we're not overloading them,'' he said, ''but giving them enough so that Saturday, August 30 they can play and do the things we want them to do right.''


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