Brown relishes competition

<!--Default NodeId For Tony Brown is 669119,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:669119]>Tony Brown</A> listened with interest as fans and media types criticized <!--Default For Tennessee is to ignore-->Tennessee's receivers last fall. He followed with interest as Vol recruiters signed four prep pass-catchers, including three high school All-Americans. He watched with interest as the heralded newcomers showcased their skills in Tennessee's early workouts.

Does Brown feel insulted? Maybe a little. Does he feel slighted? Just a bit. Does he feel resentful of the newcomers? Not at all. He welcomes the competition. If one of the rookies is good enough to take his job, more power to him.

''There's always competition in a program at this level,'' Brown said recently. ''You're always fighting for your job. Nobody really has a starting job on this team. Every day you go to practice working for a position.''

Since freshmen Bill Grimes are fighting for HIS position, Brown easily could feel too threatened to offer the newcomers any help. But that isn't his nature. He's earned praise from head coach Phillip Fulmer for providing guidance and leadership to the rookies. Other veteran receivers have begun doing the same.

''We (veterans) could be snobs and not tell them anything ... just let the freshmen go out there and run their routes and not help them out,'' Brown said. ''But we're not like that. I'm trying to help them be the best they can be. I tell them all my tricks of the trade. If I was a nasty guy, I wouldn't tell them anything.''

And, if Brown were a ''nasty guy,'' he would lash out at those who criticized him last fall. Forced into the role of ''go-to receiver'' once Kelley Washington suffered a season-ending neck injury, he was unable to provide the big-play dimension Washington had. As a result, Brown took a lot of grief.

''If you look at my numbers as a sophomore, they're better than half the guys that came before me,'' he said. ''I've never seen a guy besides Kelley come in here and grasp it like that and perform like that. At the same time, he was 22 years old. It just takes time. Over time, I think things will pan out well for us.''

With Washington moved on to the NFL, Tennessee's returning wideouts carry modest yards-per-catch averages. There doesn't appear to be a home-run threat in the bunch. But Brown bristled at the suggestion that UT has only ''possession receivers'' and may struggle to establish a vertical passing game this season.

''Possession receivers are reliable,'' he said. ''When you have a deep-threat guy, how many times is he going to show up in the game? How many big plays is he going to make? One? Two? Three?

''I don't think all of us are possession guys. We're still early in our careers. We're just learning how to play on this level. It took some of us longer than others. When it's all said and done, the University of Tennessee will have a couple of great receivers come out of this.''

Brown could be one of them. He caught two 50-yard bombs from Casey Clausen in Tennessee's initial workout of the preseason and appears to be much more of a deep threat than he was a year ago.

''I tried to concentrate on that in the offseason,'' he said. ''Me and Casey are getting our timing down. Last year I was thrown into the fire. Kelley went down, and I wasn't used to playing that position, so I was learning on the run. I did the best I could. A lot of people criticized me but I gave it all I had.''

Brown says he hasn't lowered his 40-yard dash time or suddenly developed an extra gear. He offered another explanation for his emergence as more of a home-run threat.

''It's more technique than anything,'' he said. ''It's being technically sound and fundamentally sound. Coach (Pat) Washington tells me every time I mess up. I told him, 'Coach me like I'm a freshman.' He won't let me get away with anything. He's always pointing out things and calling for do-overs. Things like that will help me out in the long run.''

Like everyone else with a stake in UT football, Brown is keenly interested in the progress of Meachem, Swain, Smith and Grimes. These talented freshmen will have some impact in Tennessee's present but they'll have major impact on Tennessee's future. Brown's early impressions of them are favorable.

''They're pretty durned good,'' he said. ''Two or three of them will play really early. By about the Florida game, they should be ready to go full speed.''

Even so, won't this year's freshmen face the same growing pains that hampered Brown, Chris Hannon, Jonathan Wade and C.J. Fayton a year ago?

''Yeah,'' Brown said. ''That's just something you're tagged with. People don't need to tell them they're doing wrong. Just encourage them. We're all a family around here.

''Everybody was pouting last year because they had a bad season and were pointing fingers but I don't think that will happen this year. It's a totally different team.''

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