Wily wideouts

When they became Vols on National Signing Day of 2003, Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith comprised perhaps the most ballyhooed trio of wide receiver recruits in Tennessee football history. All were pegged for greatness.

Three years into their college careers, however, they had underachieved so significantly that their position coach, Pat Washington, was fired following the 2005 season.

Now the talented trio appears to be making up for lost time. Meachem caught six passes for 76 yards last Saturday against Marshall. Swain added five catches for 98 yards and Smith chipped in three for 41. That's the kind of productivity Big Orange fans had in mind when the heralded pass catchers signed their UT scholarships nearly four years ago.

Swain remembers how celebrated he, Meachem and Smith were when they signed with the Vols. He remembers how high the expectations were, too.

"We mention it once in a blue moon," he said earlier this fall. "But we all know it takes more than just talent to win in the SEC. It takes the coaches, the players, the quarterback – everybody – being on the same page."

The elements of UT's passing attack never seemed to get on the same page in 2005. As a result, the Vols averaged just 18.6 points per game en route to a 5-6 record. Things are looking considerably better in 2006, however. Meachem is averaging 5.8 receptions per game and 18.3 yards per catch. Swain is averaging 4.8 catches per game and 16.5 per grab. Smith, though slowed by injury, is averaging 2.0 receptions per game and 10.6 yards per catch.

With dependable receivers at his disposal and offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe calling the plays, Vol quarterback Erik Ainge is completing 65 percent of his passes and averaging better than 260 passing yards per game.

"We know Erik's the man," Swain said. "We know Coach Cut advised guys with lesser talent than us (as head coach at Ole Miss). We've got confidence in what we've got now."

Swain says he has spent a lot of time studying past Vol receivers such as Alvin Harper, Carl Pickens, Joey Kent and Marcus Nash. He figures he has benefited in some way from watching each of them.

"I try to take all their moves and put ‘em in mine," he said. "I try to take everything they've done and put it in my own game. Who wouldn't? Those guys were great at what they did when they were here."

Still, the most important lesson Swain has learned didn't come from Harper, Pickens, Kent or Nash. It came the hard way … from personal experience. He suffered a knee sprain last spring, then aggravated the injury by returning to practice too quickly. That taught him patience.

"It was kind of frustrating because I had to come back slow," he recalled. "The problem was, I came back at full speed, trying to erase what happened last year. I was supposed to come in real slow but I came in real high and fell off real fast. I was disappointed but my teammates helped me out with that and I'm here now."

He's here, all right, and he's making his presence felt … along with cohorts Meachem and Smith.

Better late than never, right?

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