As head coach Phillip Fulmer noted earlier this spring: "We're looking at who can be the most consistent and who can have the most dynamics with their hands on the football."
Tennessee's receiving corps had some dynamic play-makers last fall in Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith. Unfortunately, none will be around for the 2007 season. Swain and Smith are out of eligibility and Meachem is bypassing his senior year to turn pro.
"Replacing Robert Meachem and the experience of Jayson Swain and Bret Smith certainly will be difficult," Fulmer conceded. "I'm anxious to see how that goes during the course of the spring."
There will be no shortage of candidates to replace the Big Three when spring drills resume this week after a one-week spring break. Lucas Taylor caught 14 passes last year. Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe grabbed five each and Quintin Hancock two. Former prep All-American Slick Shelley was hampered by injuries in 2006 but led all receivers in UT's first spring scrimmage with three catches for 38 yards. Converted tailback JaKouri Williams, senior walk-on Casey Woods and mid-term freshman enrollee Todd Campbell also figure in the wideout sweepstakes.
Fulmer conceded that the Vols have plenty of bodies "with Austin Rogers, Lucas Taylor, Josh Briscoe and Quintin Hancock being the most experienced guys, although they are not tremendously experienced."
Meachem emerged as Tennessee's go-to guy in 2006, catching 71 passes for a school-record 1298 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Vols' top three receivers of 2007 may not combine to post those kind of numbers. His departure leaves a huge void.
"But it isn't just Meachem we have to replace," offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said recently. "From the tape (of 2006 games) I've been watching, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith looked pretty darned good, too."
Even without Meachem, Swain and Smith, the Vols have plenty of wide receivers who can run a decent route and make a routine catch. Thus, the key the rest of this spring will be discovering if any of the young guys has the ability to go beyond the ordinary.
"The shortcoming at receiver is inexperience more than anything," Fulmer said. "I would expect Austin Rogers, Josh Briscoe, Lucas Taylor and those guys to be good, solid receivers. How dynamic they are, we'll see."