Trooper stays, Phil smiles

The odds of Trooper Taylor leaving Tennessee's football staff to become head man at tiny Howard University seemed to be slim and none. Still, Phillip Fulmer was glad when Taylor recently removed his name from consideration.

"It was good to keep Trooper," the Vols' head coach said. "Trooper's been really outstanding for us, as far as the job he's done on the field. It was pretty obvious the difference he made in the receiving corps, although he's got a tremendous challenge coming up for him this year."

In his first year on the Vol staff, Taylor produced two 1,000-yard running backs (Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs). Switched from running backs to receivers for 2006, he promptly helped Robert Meachem set UT's single-season school record with 1,298 receiving yards.

Meachem has since decided to skip his senior year in favor of the NFL Draft. His departure, along with that of seniors Jayson Swain and Bret Smith, decimates the Vol receiving corps. UT must replace 60 percent of its 2006 receptions, 71 percent of its 2006 receiving yards and 92 percent of its 2006 receiving touchdowns.

Given the imposing nature of this challenge, maybe there WAS a chance Taylor might leave UT for Howard. Regardless, he'll be a busy man in the coming months as he tries to sift through 15 to 20 wideout candidates to try and find suitable replacements for Swain, Smith and Meachem.

The holdovers are Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers, Josh Briscoe, Quintin Hancock, Bill Grimes and Slick Shelley. Taylor caught 13 passes for 98 yards in 2006, Rogers 5 for 69, Briscoe 4 for 45 and Hancock 2 for 29. Grimes and Shelley have never caught a pass in a college game. Tennessee also will be bringing in a sizeable class of first-year wideouts next August. Clearly, Taylor's work is cut out for him.

"He inherited a group of seniors and Meachem," Fulmer noted. "Now we've got a lot of work to do with this group."

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