Wide Receiver U

On Pat Washington's first day of summer vacation, he told his wife he was looking forward to a vacation.

A friend called and asked if Tennessee's wide receivers' coach was bringing his golf clubs.

``Bring my golf clubs?'' Washington said. ``Where?''

Mexico.

Washington's wife, Claudette, hadn't told her husband.

Cancun, Mexico.

Washington brought the clubs.

Washington doesn't anticipate any such surprises this season with his receiving corps. Quarterback Rick Clausen said it might be the best in the nation. It certainly is one of the most experienced. Tennessee will hardly miss its leading receiver from last season - Tony Brown (31 catches).

Chris Hannon is a senior who has played 34 games and caught 21 passes each of the past two seasons. He had a UT-best eight catches against Florida last season.

C.J. Fayton is a senior who has played 39 games and had a career-best 94 receiving yards in the Cotton Bowl.

Bret Smith is a junior with 20 games under his belt who led the Vols last season with five touchdown receptions.

Jayson Swain is a junior who is the leading returning receiver on the team with 29 catches. His 50 career catches in two seasons is tied with Fayton for most on the team.

Robert Meachem is a redshirt sophomore who led the team last season in receiving yards (459) and yards per catch (18.4). He had 145 yards against Kentucky.

The smallest of those receivers: Swain at 6-1.

The lightest: Smith at 188.

The most talented: Meachem.

Washington couldn't ask for more skill or more depth.

``A few years back, we had a bunch of young guys we played with, the Chris Hannons and C. J. Faytons --- guys like that,'' Washington said. ``We had to play Swain, who was a freshman. Meachem would have played (as a freshman) but he was injured. We had a period where we had to grow.''

Consider the receivers grown up.

Washington recalls the youngsters making their share of mistakes, ``but the plus side is if you can hang in there, you're going to have a really experienced group that's probably pretty talented. We're at that point now.

``We have an experienced, talented group that should really, truly be one of the focal points of the offensive football team this year.''

Last season, the Vols' wideouts caught only 117 passes. The last time 31 catches led the team was in 1987. UT completed just 210 passes - the third-fewest in the past 10 years. And that was in 13 games for an average of 16 completions per game.

By comparison, Florida's top three receivers last season combined for 135 catches and the Gators completed 243 passes in 12 games.

With more experience at quarterback, the Vols should complete more passes.

Experience at quarterback certainly paid dividends last season for Auburn.

``Auburn had a lot of great players all over the field,'' Washington said, ``but the key to their success, I thought, was the quarterback. And he went through about three years of just truly being critiqued and criticized really hard. But his senior year, he shined. The experience paid off.

``So having Eric Ainge and Rick Clausen, guys who played last year, is a good thing. But they are still both relatively young as far as playing football. So they're still growing in a lot of ways.''

Clausen has five career starts in four years, Ainge six in one season.

Asked about expectations from the receivers, Washington has a simple answer: To win football games.

``We've got to always keep in mind the team is first,'' he said. ``If we throw the ball more, of course, they (receivers) will be happy. But we may end up running the ball more. You never know.''

Despite depth at wideout, Washington is well aware that each of his top five receivers has been sidelined by injury.

``Hopefully, this year it won't happen,'' Washington said. ``You've just got to knock on wood. At the same time, you've got to get some young guys ready.''

Two of the young guys are Bill Grimes and Josh Briscoe.

Grimes has had two knee surgeries, but had a big spring game and hopes the injury bug is behind him.

``Bill really stepped up this spring,'' Washington said. ``He finally had a chance to run with both legs. After knee surgery, you hope that he can be at least 90 percent. I think he's at that point.''

Briscoe, a true freshman who enrolled in January, made some noise in the spring. But when Washington first saw him, he wasn't sure about the frail-looking 6-3, 170-pounder.

``You think, `Can that guy play football?''' Washington said of his reaction when he saw Briscoe at UT. ``I remember coach (Randy) Sanders and I, every time we saw him, we went back and watched tapes and said, `Man, are we sure that's the right guy?'''

During summer workouts, All-SEC cornerback Jason Allen went one-on-one with Briscoe and reportedly jammed him so hard at the line, Briscoe bounced into the wall.

``Briscoe is not very strong,'' Washington said.

But Washington is now convinced Briscoe can be a good receiver.

``He is a smart kid,'' Washington said. ``He loves the game. He's willing to put in the extra effort after practice, watching tape, studying the game. He's going to ask a lot of questions. I love a guy like that. That type of guy has a chance to be a really good football player.''

A guy who can eventually blend in with UT's current crop of receivers.


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