Meachem, Swain are dynamic duo

Robert Meachem would never admit it, but all the hype, all the expectations, all the questions about when he'd emerge as a star player apparently had a negative affect on Tennessee's junior receiver. He was supposed to be a star, but he wasn't playing like one.

He heard people ask time after time after time when he'd emerge. Surely, he grew tired of the talk.

``He never complained about it,'' said Tennessee receivers coach Trooper Taylor. ``But it's human nature. I'm sure he did.

``If you ask him, I'm sure he'd say he never did. But everywhere he went, somebody was always asking, `When are you going to bust out?' He'd go to the barber shop, and they'd ask him, `Man, when are you going to break out?'

``It's not like he didn't want to. It was frustrating for him. I think he realized he can just do what he can do.''

What Meachem is doing is answer those earlier skeptics.

Meachem is having a monster season. He has emerged as UT's best receiver. He has emerged as one of the SEC's best receivers. He has emerged as one of the nation's best receivers.

Check the numbers: 27 catches for a nation's best 577 yards and five touchdowns. That translates to 5.4 catches per game, 21.4 yards per catch and 115.4 receiving yards per game – third-best in the nation.

Meachem and Jayson Swain led the nation with 955 receiving yards. They have combined for 10 touchdowns. They have been the SEC's best receiver duo.

Meachem was motivated in part this season by something a former Tennessee receiver Cedrick Wilson said. In essence: ``You receivers shouldn't think you're good because you just got your position coached fired.''

That hit home with Meachem, as did a 5-6 record. He went to work in the weight room and on the practice field. And he tended to some mental health.

``Mentally, he's a tough kid,'' Taylor said. ``But any time somebody tells you you're sorry long enough, that's just what you'll be. I think it (criticism) did affect him some.''

Taylor said it didn't affect Meachem's work ethic, only his focus.

``He just wasn't focusing on the right things – fundamentals of his pad leverage, where his hands and the ball come together, where to catch the football. I think those things he just took for granted.

``He was reading the newspapers about all the potential and all the stars he had around his name when he came out of high school, and he was just trying to do too much.''

Taylor said the main reasons for Meachem's improvement are fundamentals, focus and carrying out his assignments.

Meachem arrived with gaudy credentials. He was a decorated high school All-American, a key catch in UT's 2003 recruiting class. He was impressive in practice in the fall of 2003 until a knee injury forced him to redshirt.

How much did that set him back?

``A bunch,'' Taylor said. ``A bunch. When you're young, it's hard to make that transition from high school to college right off the bat. But it's really frustrating when you get injured because you're separated from the team. Mentally, it's tough. The biggest battle is between your ears.''

Yet, despite his label as an underachiever, Meachem led the Vols in receiving yards as a redshirt freshman and sophomore. He had 29 catches for 383 yards last season and 25 catches for 459 yards his first season.

``That's something I pointed out to him,'' Taylor said. ``You keep saying those things (about underachieving) but look at your stats. Now what can we do to get better. We're going to look at the little things you haven't been doing right and try to fix them.''

At times, Meachem reverts to old, bad habits. At times this season, he's caught the ball and given ground, trying to make a big play.

``We corrected that right off the bat,'' Taylor said. ``That can make a big difference. Swain was two yards short of 100 against Marshall and I can promise you, I could find 10, 12 more yards where he could have been over 100.''

Taylor said Swain's biggest improvement is his attitude and leadership.

``He's accountable not only for himself, but to the other guys in that room,'' Taylor said. ``This guy gets the whole group together to watch tape. I don't have to worry about taking roll because he's going to take roll.

``I heard him get on a player the other day for not finishing his push ups. When a guy's out there talking the same way you're talking as a coach, obviously, he's mowing his own grass. It makes you really feel good as a coach.''

Taylor said Swain is the best route runner among the wideouts.

``He creates the most separation, he and Josh Briscoe,'' Taylor said. ``Jayson is so savvy. He understands routes as far as how they fit into coverages. That helps him do a good job of getting open.''

Swain and Slick Shelley have the best hands on the team, Taylor said.

Taylor believes Swain has an NFL future.

``They want to know his speed and they want to know how tough he is,'' Taylor said. ``He doesn't play a lot of special teams; that's something they'd like to see him do.''

More speed would make Swain more dynamic.

``Without a doubt,'' Taylor said. ``Everybody knows speed is the name of the game. You can outrun your mistakes, if you're fast enough. That's something he and I talked about. I want him working on his bursts, being able to accelerate.

``He can come out of a break, but if you can't separate speed wise and run by guys, it's going to be a problem.''

Thus far, it hasn't been a problem for Swain or Meachem – the nation's most dynamic receiving tandem in September.

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