Tracking Trooper's troops

The word most-often used to describe Tennessee's wide receivers last year wasn't playmakers. It wasn't potential. It wasn't difference-makers. It was underachievers. And that's not the word you want to hear when you're a highly touted recruit at a big-time college program.

But underachiever is the best way to portray what the receivers did last year.

It's the word Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer used earlier this week at a press conference when discussing the group. It's the word new receivers coach Trooper Taylor would like to keep out of the vocabulary of his head coach, of fans, of media – and of players.

But it's a word that could motivate Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain and Bret Smith and others.

``I'm sure it has (motivated them),'' Taylor said. ``But I think a lot of it is the 5-6 (record) and trying to reach their potential out of high school. All that together is motivation for them.''

Too often last season, the receivers dropped passes or didn't run the right route or didn't beat press coverage or didn't block downfield. And some weren't in shape.

Taylor vows to change all that. He saw encouraging signs in the spring.

``You either practice to win or you practice to lose,'' Taylor said. ``I think those guys have really started to pick it up.''

Taylor said the wideouts worked harder and paid attention to detail and improved their blocking.

``They've got to get it done in practice, but it's still a different game when the lights come on,'' Taylor said. ``So I'm looking forward to seeing how they respond.''

Taylor said dropped passes are unacceptable. He's used some old drills and introduced some new drills to ensure drops will be kept to a minimum.

``Catching the football is a habit,'' Taylor said. ``If you develop bad habits in practice, it's going to carry over into games.''

Likewise, Taylor hopes developing good habits will carry over into games. That's why he's been so pleased with senior Jayson Swain, who led the team in yards per catch (14.1) while making 27 receptions in 2005.

Swain showed terrific leadership in the spring and continued that in the summer.

``I like the way he's taking other guys and making them jump in line and making them accountable for catching balls and watching tape on opponents,'' Taylor said. ``The big deal for him is to stay healthy.''

The big deal for Meachem is to stay focused. Blessed with size and speed, Meachem has yet to play to his potential, even though he has led the team in receiving yards each of the past two seasons.

Taylor said Meachem has worked to have the breakout year everyone is awaiting.

``I don't know if he'll ever get to the expectations of Volunteer fans or himself,'' Taylor said. ``I just told him to go out there and make the plays he's supposed to make and then we'll go from there. I think he put a lot of pressure on himself. If he'll just go out there and concentrate on doing the little things, I think the big plays will come for him.''

Smith has made his share of big plays, but not enough of them. Taylor thinks Smith has matured mentally and physically. Now, he needs to work on being consistent.

``The thing I don't want him to do is show up for one game, then disappear for five or six,'' Taylor said.

Taylor attributes Smith's up and down play, in part, to not knowing his role.

``He doesn't need to be a guy that fits in,'' Taylor said. ``He needs to be a guy that's showing up and being a leader. He needs to be consistent in every game and be a threat every time he walks out there.''

Lucas Taylor might be a threat every time he walks out there. While he didn't catch a pass last season, he showed flare as a punt and kickoff returner.

``His deal is he's got to do the little things,'' Taylor said. ``He's got to line up and not cover another receiver. Those things come with experience. The only way to get that experience is drop him out there. But I know this much: He made plays this spring and I hope it carries over to the season.''

Slick Shelley, a redshirt freshman, made plays in the spring before suffering a knee injury. Taylor says Shelley has ``a lot of ability.''

Josh Briscoe and Austin Rogers also have receiver skills.

``What I told those guys is, we're not looking to have a 12-man rotation,'' Taylor said. ``We're looking to have five or six we can count on to keep them fresh. They better jump up to the front and make some plays.''

Taylor said the receivers will be in shape. They will know their roles. And, he hopes, they will catch the ball and make big plays.

``They have to understand that every play, every snap is important,'' Taylor said. ``There is no time off when you're out there. The key pass could be the one coming to you at any time. I think they've matured that way and I'm hoping it will pay off in games.''


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