Wideouts are movitated

Coming off a losing season, Tennessee's football players have a lot to prove heading into today's opener (5:30 kickoff at Neyland Stadium) against California. No one has more to prove than Vol wide receivers.

Toasted in preseason of 2005, the wideouts were roasted once the season began. They ran sloppy routes, rarely blocked downfield, seldom got separation and dropped too many catchable passes. In short, they didn't make plays. That's why it's important for them to reverse that trend with a good showing in the 2006 opener.

"It's important. It's important in any game," senior receiver Jayson Swain says. "Anytime you step between the lines you want to start making plays. That's the attitude we've taken all preseason and that's the attitude we're taking Saturday."

Vol receivers made almost no big plays in 2005. Whether there's a big-play guy waiting to emerge in 2006 doesn't seem to concern Swain. He believes four 10-yard plays are as good as one 40-yard play.

"When we step between the lines it's time to make plays," he said. "Whether it's big, medium or small, we've got to make positive plays. We don't want any of those negative plays or wasted plays."

DeSean Jackson heads up a heralded group of California wideouts that has soaked up much of the pre-game publicity. Swain seems a little insulted but says he isn't concerned.

"There's a lot of talk," he said somberly. "There's been talk all summer. We're just tired of talking. We're ready to play."

With Tennessee coming off a disappointing season, some analysts believe the Vols desperately need to beat No. 9 California today. Asked if these people are putting too much emphasis on one game, Swain shook his head.

"No," he said. "That's what you play for. You come here to play the top teams in the country. I wouldn't have it no other way. We know they're talented but we're talented, too. They've got a lot to prove but we've got a lot to prove, too. It's a good match-up."

Swain may or may not be the receiver Vol quarterbacks go to in the clutch this year but he certainly appears to be the player Vol teammates look to for guidance. His maturity, quiet confidence and determination set a great example for the younger players.

"I've seen outstanding leadership," head coach Phillip Fulmer said of Swain. "He's certainly one of the playmakers. You can put him at any position in the receiver corps and he's going to have a chance to make a play. He's the most consistent receiver out there, so I'm expecting big things from him."

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