Meachem's encore

In 11 games last season Robert Meachem managed just one catch of 30 yards or more – a 50-yarder in the finale at Kentucky. In one game so far this season he has three – a 41-yard reception on the Vols' first offensive snap vs. Cal, a 42-yard touchdown catch and an 80-yard touchdown grab.

"Robert kind of had a breakout game for us," head coach Phillip Fulmer notes. "He's a big, strong guy who had a little bit of a mismatch (against Cal freshman Syd'Quan Thompson). A couple of times the corner tried to make a play on the ball but Robert was able to get the ball and make a play.

"We worked formation-wise to get some of those mismatches … to get him matched up against the young corner."

Fulmer was happy to see Meachem finally make some plays for the Vols like the ones he made as a heralded high school standout in Tulsa. The coach is hoping Meachem can make a few more big plays tonight vs. Air Force.

"Nobody works harder in practice than Robert," Fulmer noted. "He'll block, he'll catch, he doesn't mind going over the middle. He's on several special teams. He had a big game, and he deserves it. He had a tough year last year."

Meachem finished with five catches for 182 yards and two TDs in the opener. He wasn't the only Vol wideout to enjoy a big day, though. Senior Jayson Swain had two catches for 65 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown reception.

These eye-popping performances shocked some observers, but not Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis. He says he always knew Meachem and Swain were capable of great things.

"You're seeing some guys healthy," Chavis noted. "I said last year that that was probably the best group of receivers we've had since I've been at Tennessee. You saw guys play last year that were not healthy. The biggest thing you're seeing this year is healthy guys."

The fact Meachem and Swain exploded against Cal after making very few plays in preseason scrimmages against the Vol secondary suggests UT's defensive backfield is a stellar group.

"That tells us our secondary is where we thought they'd be," Chavis said, "and they're not making mistakes."

The daily practice-field battles between the wideouts and the defensive backs obviously have benefited both groups. Chavis is clearly encouraged.

"You get better that way," the coordinator said. "It's getting back to where it needs to be: When you come to Tennessee you hope the guys you practice against are going to be as good or better than the ones you play against."

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