Trooper on Meachem

If anyone would have insight into the future of Tennessee receiver Robert Meachem, it would be his position coach, Trooper Taylor. But Taylor doesn't know whether Meachem plans to return for his senior year or make himself eligible for the NFL draft.

``I hope he's focused right now on playing against Penn State in the Outback Bowl,'' Taylor said.

``Being realistic, he knows he's got a major decision to make.''

Meachem has already talked to former Vols Donte Stallworth (who went pro early) and Jason Allen (who didn't). Each was a first-round draft pick. Stallworth went higher than expected, No. 13 overall. Allen, despite a serious hip injury suffered his senior year, was the No. 16 overall pick.

Like Meachem, Taylor knows it's a roll of the dice. You can find examples of players who helped their draft stock by returning. You can find examples of players suffering injuries as seniors and hurting their draft stock.

``He's got to do what's best for him,'' Taylor said of Meachem, who set a school record with 1,265 yards on 67 catches. ``He's a big pat of our family here. He understands that. We'd obviously love to have him back, but at the same time, when you go out and get great players, you want them to have that opportunity to play at the next level.''

Taylor said Meachem can improve on route running and body lean after catches. While it appeared as though Meachem had trouble against press coverage late in the season, Taylor disagrees.

``I heard that and went back and watched tape and he separated from those guys (Arkansas‘ cornerbacks),'' Taylor said. ``Anytime you get that aggressive press coverage, the windows are going to be a lot tighter, but I thought there were times he was open and we didn't get him the ball.''

Taylor said Meachem improved considerably over last season because he went against Jonathan Wade and Jonathan Hefney daily in practice.

``I think coming back for another year will help him maturity wise,'' Taylor said. ``And I think he understands that if he does come back, it will help him get better.''

Some have questioned Meachem's speed. Taylor doesn't know why.

``No question, he's fast enough,'' Taylor said. ``Whoever is asking that question doesn't recognize talent when they see it because this kid can flat run.''


Penn State coach Joe Paterno turned 80 on Thursday. He has been the Nittany Lions head coach since 1966. He has been on the staff since 1950.

Tennessee guard David Ligon can't imagine playing for a coach eight decades old.

``I really can't,'' Ligon said. ``He's been there, gosh, almost 60 years hasn't he? That's a long time. That's amazing. He's done some things right and he's done some things right for a long time. He's a living legend.''

Ligon said he can't remember when he first heard of Paterno.

``I was thinking about saying (when I first heard of) Jesus, but, no, let's not compare him to that,'' Ligon said. ``He's somebody everybody knows about all around the country, no matter whether you're in California or Florida or upstate New York. You know who Joe Paterno is and you know where he coaches.''


Some people say a college playoff wouldn't work because you're asking players to play an extra game or two. But college players don't seem to mind.

Ligon is excited about the chance to play in a bowl game, something he didn't do a year ago because of the Vols' 5-6 season.

``I guess at this time last year I was probably sitting at home,'' Ligon said. ``Here I am, I'm still playing football, getting ready to get some nice bowl gifts, some bowl money, go to Tampa where they have nice warm weather and get to play another football game.

``I guarantee, every single person on this team, not just the seniors, will not take this for granted.''


Ligon doesn't buy into the stereotype that the SEC is faster than the Big Ten, thus UT is faster than Penn State.

``After looking at film,'' Ligon said, ``the stereotype is not true, especially nowadays with national recruiting. It's really made speed in college football kind of null.''

Ligon, who was recruited by Michigan and strongly considered the Wolverines, said Penn State's defense doesn't remind him of anyone in the SEC, but he finds individuals that remind him of SEC players.

Ligon said No. 92, Ed Johnson, a defensive tackle, reminds him of LSU's Glenn Dorsey or California's Brandon Mebane, but Johnson has been suspended for the game.

Ligon said No. 13 – defensive tackle Jay Alford – is ``a real quick, tall guy, a great player.'' Alford is 6-feet-3 and 288.

Defensive end Josh Gaines is like Alabama's Wallace Gilberry.

Ligon said the Nittany Lions' linebackers are outstanding.

``Their linebackers don't compare to anybody in the SEC,'' Ligon said. ``They're on their own level. No. 31 (Paul Posluszny) is tough, strong, hard-nosed, plays hard, probably plays the position I guarantee harder than anybody in the country. He really hits the hole. Whether he's the most athletic guy at his position in the country, I'd dare say yes. He's rarely out of position.''

Ligon said the linebackers, including standout Dan Connor, are smart and flow well to the ball.

``It's really hard to find on film a play where they've been tricked,'' Ligon said. ``They're always in position.''

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