The Wide Receivers

As the season approaches, Inside Tennessee is going to feature each position of the Tennessee football team. The wideout position may very well be the most talked about slot all summer long. For two very good reasons. Kelley Washington and a big question mark.

As the 2001 season approached one year ago, there was little talk of who would emerge as the go-to guys. Donte Stallworth looked poised for a tremendous year. Seniors Bobby Graham and Eric Parker had proved themselves in the heat of battle and only needed to remain healthly as the season progressed. That coupled with walk-on Kelley Washington, who was being hyped as the best walk-on in UT history, made Vol fans less cautious about the receivers as the Syracuse game approached.
Fast forward one year. Parker and Graham have graduated. Donte Stallworth surprises all, including quarterback Casey Clausen, and departs Knoxville for the NFL. Kelley Washington elects to stay around one more year and then in all likelyhood, he is gone after only two seasons with the Vols. Now the discussion at receiver becomes more popular. The Vols are ripe with young and unexperienced players. Make no mistake, the passing game is as crucial for Tennessee as the running game. If you don't believe that, ask Steve Spurrier what he was most concerned about when he and his Florida team was upset on December 1st of 2001 by the University of Tennessee.

"We were very worried that the two guys on the outside(Stallworth and Washington) would burn us deep if we weren't careful," Spurrier commented earlier this year. "Jason Witten was also a major concern down the middle. That is why we just couldn't stop the run game that night. It was almost a case of pick your poison."

That is what Tennessee wants to be able to do, but then again doesn't every team that steps onto the gridiron. Tennessee has the talent, they just haven't had the opportunity to prove themselves in big-time SEC action. Let us run down the list of guys that will have to play big for Tennessee to have a shot at the SEC crown and ultimately the national title.

Kelley Washington is obviously the man that will led the group. His 64 catches for 1010 yards with 5 touchdowns was tops in receiving in the 2001 season. Washington has gotten a ton of preseason hype from television, print media and the internet. Kelley has names as a Playboy All-American and will be named to many other all-America teams before the season arrives. His brash and loud personality will make him a media darling or a media dog. His success will depend on that, so let us hope it is the earlier of the two. Washington should be able get a fair share of passes thrown his way in 2002, but he will also be the one player that defensive coordinators are going to key on. With Washington being double-covered for the most part, that will free up some of the other guys to make some big plays.

Leonard Scott is one of those players. Scott's world-class speed makes him a constant deep threat. Leonard's one drawback has been his ability to catch the football. During practice and some games, he has not made the catches that the Tennessee coaches would like to see him make. Receivers coach Pat Washington has been impressed with Scott as far as where he has come since the Citus Bowl and know to this point. "Leonard has really shown leadership over the summer getting the guys in here to get better. He worked with Wade, Montrell and the others this summer. Casey really worked them to get better and that also helps us a great deal." Scott is the No. 2 receiver right now, but he will have to show coaches the consistency that they like to see in a Tennessee wide receiver to remain in the starting lineup.

Another player that has gotten much better over the summer is Montrell Jones. Montrell improved his speed by about a step and a half. His speed and ability to catch the football will make him a threat over the middle and very dangerous on Tennessee's infamous fade routes. In the spring it looked as if Montrell was only going to be a possession receiver. With his work over the summer, he is probably the third receiver in line. Montrell is listed at 6'2 which will give him a slight advantage over the typical SEC defensive back in many games. Jones was reported to have run a 4.35 in the 40. If this holds to be true, Montrell may crack in as a starter before the 2002 season is in the books.

Tony Brown is another player who has been a slight blip on the radar screen to this point. Brown has always gotten a lot of pop from his teammates following great practice workouts in the past. Former Vol Andre Lott compared Tony to current Cleveland Brown and former Kansas State receiver Quincy Morgan. Tony has continued to show obvious improvement since the start of spring practice. Brown has made some very athletic plays over the first few practice sessions of the fall and then on Tuesday morning Tony made a great play on an overthrown deep ball for a touchdown catch. Tony will have to emerge as a big-play guy for Tennessee not only for production, but also for shear depth at the position.

Jomo Fagan came into Tennessee and did not catch the ball nearly enough to earn playing time in 2001. After redshirting behind the likes of Stallworth, Graham and Parker, Jomo looks to make a significant mark on the offense. Fagan has the build of a Bobby Graham. Tennessee will try to throw the slant at the middle of the field and Jomo should be the perfect compliment to go with Jason Witten. If Fagan doesn't come along at receiver, he could conceivably wind up in the secondary. Jomo played at corner a little in high school. Depending on how the NFL draft hits Tennessee next January, only time(playing time)will tell.

The wildcard of the bunch is C.J. Fayton. Fayton has shown great, athletic plays in the spring and, thus far, fall practice. His consistency has been very up and down. Fayton, who originally came to Tennessee as a quarterback, is just really getting a feel for the route running. "We call him showtime," said Vol cornerback Jabari Greer. "Showtime just needs to be consistent enough for the coaches and he will see a bunch of playing time. He has great ability as a football player." I, being me, like what the future holds for Fayton. The mental part of football is the easiest to get. A player can't always turn into a pure athlete. C.J. is a pure athlete. If he works hard, Fayton will have a significant impact on the Tennessee team. It may be 2002, but it will happen.

There is only one player on the "IT 2002 Position Rundown" that will appear twice on two different positions. I am sure you can guess. The player is Derrick Tinsley. He is currently breaking his practice reps by about a 65/35 percent ratio of runningback and receiver. Tinsley is another guy who will have to get the route running down, but the ability is there. "Derrick is a tailback, but he will see some receiver plays in 2002," Pat Washington quipped. "He has too much talent to be the backup runner or third string runner all year. We want to get him involved as much as we logically can." I concure with coach. The more Tinsley is involved, the better the wideouts will look this season.

Our final analysis will be of the new guys. Jonathan Wade and Chris Hannon. Both come to Tennessee as great runners. Wade is a world-class sprinter who is lethal on a deep ball. Wade, wearing the number 4 jersey, looks like a young Donte Stallworth just on physical appearance alone. Wade worked in the second half of summer sessions with the receivers. Linebacker Eddie Moore commented that he is "a hair faster than Leonard(Scott)." Wade has shown signs of talent in the first few days of practice, but will have to catch the ball better than his first few days have looked. Chris Hannon has shown great promise in his first few weeks on campus. He has caught the ball very well and may see some action on special teams very early. Chris like, all those mentioned before, is very athletic and makes great plays. His main concern should be learning the Tennessee offense. In an offense so complex and a league so tough, one botched route could result in a complete game turnaround. Despite the few small hangups, these two players figure very important in Tennessee's future. Whether it is sooner or later is up to them.

Well there is a very rough rundown of the Tennessee Volunteers corp of wide receivers. The wideout position, as I said above, will be very crucial to Phillip fulmer and staff in 2002. The emergence of a clear second starter will have to happen and it will have to happen in 17 days. Wyoming and Middle Tennessee may not hinge on if the Vols have a clear No. 2, but those Florida Gators will. Let us hope it doesn't take that long. as Coach Pat Washington said, "Finding the man may not be the problem, it may be narrowing it down to one man." Boy I hope he is right.


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