Eight Tennessee wide receivers saw game action last fall. Five of them – Robert Meachem (29), Jayson Swain (27), C.J. Fayton (24), Chris Hannon (24) and Bret Smith (21) caught at least 20 passes. Freshmen Josh Briscoe (4), Austin Rogers (1) and Lucas Taylor (0) also saw action at the receiver positions.
Did the Vols' offensive continuity suffer from running so many receivers in and out of the lineup? Perhaps. Certainly, Tennessee's wideouts fell far short of expectations in 2006. Fulmer concedes as much.
"Our receiver corps, as has been well documented, probably underachieved the most last year," the head man said. "They understand the challenge. They're certainly physically capable of being good players."
Tennessee's wideouts played so poorly last fall that position coach Pat Washington was fired at season's end. Trooper Taylor was moved over from running backs coach to receivers coach to fill the void. To improve concentration, he made the wideouts catch 100 tennis balls per day and do penalty running each time any of them dropped a pass in practice. Although several receivers made progress, a few continued dropping catchable balls. That could limit their roles this fall.
New offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe says he will play only receivers he feels he can trust to execute their assignments properly and catch the ball consistently. That might be a short list. Regardless, Fulmer believes a couple of veteran Vols are ready to meet the challenge.
"Robert Meachem and Bret Smith have worked extremely hard to get ready for this fall," the head man said. "I'm anxious to see them be every-down productive players – catching the ball, blocking downfield, route-running and doing all the things well that they need to do."