Wideout woes

Given the glaring lack of experience among Tennessee's returning wideouts, you'd figure receivers coach Trooper Taylor may be forced to slow down the teaching process this spring. That isn't the case, though.

"No, that's going to force THEM to speed up," Taylor says with a laugh. "I'm not going to slow down. We only have 15 days. My job as a coach is to make sure they are fundamentally sound but also put them in position to be successful."

Minus Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith, Tennessee's receiving corps this spring mainly consists of four guys who combined for 26 catches last fall – Lucas Taylor (14), Austin Rogers (5), Josh Briscoe (5) and Quintin Hancock (2). That quartet did not produce a single touchdown in 2006.

Still, the bubbly Taylor is as upbeat as ever.

"I think we've got talent," he says. "Obviously, we're going to miss the big three that left. When you lose that many catches in one swoop, that makes a big difference."

Although he has just four returnees who have ever caught a pass at the collegiate level, Taylor doesn't consider Taylor, Rogers, Briscoe and Hancock to be the top four contenders for playing time next fall.

"I don't have a top four," he says. "I told them all: ‘You're not only competing with every guy in this room, you're competing with the tight ends, the fullbacks and the running backs. With Coach Cut's offense, you're allowed to put the best 11 out there, so you've got to earn your way out there.

"We're going to use the best 11. If that's four tight ends and one wide receiver, let's put ‘em out there. The bottom line is putting the best 11 on the field."

That is no idle threat. Tight ends Chris Brown and Brad Cottam are two of Tennessee's best and most experienced offensive players. They'll be utilized in tandem a lot in 2007, meaning UT will operate with two wideouts instead of three. Occasionally, the Vols may go with just one wideout.

"If you make plays, we'll put you out on that field," Taylor notes. "If you don't, you get to watch it with me on the sidelines."

The Vol aide hopes to identify four wide receivers this spring that he can count on in the fall. That may not be realistic, however.

"I'm going to try to come out of spring with four," Taylor says. "But if we only come out with two, that's what we'll do."

The receiver competition won't end when spring practice does. Some outstanding wideout signees will be joining the mix in August, including such heralded pass catchers as Kenny O'Neal, Brent Vinson, Gerald Jones and Ahmad Paige. All could show up on the Game 1 depth chart, as Taylor readily admits.

"I am not afraid to play a true freshman,"the Vol aide says. "I'm not afraid to play the most talented. I want guys that want to do it and will go out there and be productive."

So, after battling among themselves this spring, Tennessee's returning wideouts will face a stiff challenge from a ballyhooed group of newcomers in August. The veteran receivers understand this.

"Without a doubt," Taylor says. "They're not dumb. They can read."

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