WRs show vast improvement

Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge might be the most improved player in the nation, but the Vols' receiving corps has to be the most improved unit. Not only have they produced on pass receptions, they've also blocked well and played a key role on special teams.

And receivers coach Trooper Taylor couldn't be prouder.

Taylor, who served as UT's running backs coach for two seasons, moved to receivers after Pat Washington was fired and David Cutcliffe was hired.

His goal is always to make the unit he coaches better than it was before.

Mission accomplished.

Robert Meachem has caught 45 passes for 868 yards and six touchdowns. Bret Smith has caught 31 passes for 343 yards and four touchdowns. Jayson Swain has caught 28 passes for 460 yards and five touchdowns.

That's 104 catches for 1,671 yards and 15 touchdowns in eight games.

Last season, that trio caught 77 passes for 986 yards and five scores.

It's not just pass catching. Meachem provided a blocking escort for Jonathan Hefney's 65-yard punt return against South Carolina. Meachem and Lucas Taylor made a key punt-coverage tackle in the fourth quarter against Alabama. Smith and Meachem have made crucial downfield blocks to spring long runs or long pass plays.

Taylor has brought pride to a position that was pitiful in 2005.

``If you ask our receivers, they'll tell you their job is to catch the football,'' Taylor said. ``Their responsibility is perfect alignment, perfect assignment and unbelievable effort.''

Effort might be the biggest key. UT's receivers didn't always give effort in previous seasons. That hasn't been an issue this season. Swain epitomizes that effort. A senior leader, Swain wasn't supposed to play against South Carolina. He hadn't practiced all week. But he gutted it out and caught three passes, including a key 21-yard reception on third-and-15 on the Vols' go-ahead touchdown drive in the second half.

``It says a bunch about the kid,'' Taylor said. ``We almost didn't pack his stuff. I got to give credit to Coach Fulmer. He said when a guy's adrenalin gets going, you never know. So we had him bring his stuff.''

Swain went through pre-game warm-ups, cut well and got the OK from UT's trainers.

Swain isn't the only wide receiver banged up. Smith (ankle) and Meachem (knee) have been hobbled and Austin Rogers (shoulder, mono) has missed the last month.

``If they don't have some soreness or pain at this point,'' Taylor said, ``they're probably not giving you the effort you want.''

Trooper is adamant he doesn't want his troops in green (no contact) jerseys at practice – an all-too-frequent occurrence in past seasons.

``You won't see our receivers in green jerseys,'' Taylor said. ``I told them I coached at Tulane for four years. I don't want to see any more green jerseys.''

The receivers' work ethic and pain tolerance have been a key for an offense that has had to rely on the passing game much more than anticipated.

That's because the run game has been inconsistent, even non-existent at times. UT running backs had just 53 yards on 20 carries against a Gamecock defense that was giving up 147 rushing yards per game. The Vols had only 57 rushing yards against Alabama, 79 against Air Force and an embarrassing minus-11 against Florida.

This season, the Vols are averaging 113.5 rushing yards per game – 10th in the SEC – and the top two rushers, Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty, have combined to averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.

``It's definitely a concern because we want to be balanced,'' Taylor said. ``At the same time, we're trying to play winning football. Whatever the defense gives us, we're going to take. It's about execution.

``You've got to be able to run the football to win championships and eat up clock and possessions. We're going to keep working at it and keep handing it off to the them and hopefully the offensive line will open some holes and backs will make some plays.''

Has a limited run game put more pressure on the passing game?

``Not really,'' Taylor said. ``I think it opens up the passing game more because now we're getting the tight ends and backs more involved. It's really helped us some because we've emphasized getting it to guys other than just the wideouts.''


Walk-on linebacker Nick Reveiz of Farragut might have a home at fullback next season. He almost had his redshirt burned this season because of UT's lack of production at the position.

Reveiz met with Coach Phillip Fulmer and Fuad Reveiz, Nick's father, to discuss Nick playing fullback this season, Fuad said. But the parties agreed it would be a disservice to play Nick this season, Fuad said.

EXTRA POINTS: Taylor said UT considered using a spy to contain Gamecocks quarterback Syvelle Newton, who rushed for 85 yards, many on scrambles. Taylor said the most likely spy would have been Demetrice Morley, who would have moved from safety to linebacker. But Morley was suspended for most of the first half for academic reasons. … Taylor said he wants running back Ja'Kouri Williams full time at receiver. … UT leads the series against LSU 20-5-3. The defeats: 2002, 2000, 1988, 1974, 1933.

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