Revenge of the receivers

Tennessee's defensive backs thoroughly outplayed the wide receivers in last Saturday's full-scale scrimmage – a fact duly noted by head coach Phillip Fulmer, offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe and receivers coach Trooper Taylor.

Adding to the insult, the wideouts had to do punitive up/downs during the scrimmage and run the stadium steps afterward.

Thursday provided a little payback, however, as the pass catchers burned the defensive backs for several sizeable gains during a 65-play situational scrimmage.

"Last scrimmage we didn't get a lot done throwing the ball," Fulmer said following the workout, "but today we made some plays. We made several big plays at receiver. That's what spring practice is about … that kind of back and forth."

When Tennessee's receivers fail to make big plays – as was the case in 2005 – Tennessee struggles offensively. When Tennessee's receivers manage to make big plays – as was the case in 2006 – Tennessee thrives offensively. A 70-yard drive isn't nearly as difficult when it includes a 30-yard pass play. Thus, having a big-play receiver or two is a huge advantage.

"Absolutely," Fulmer said. "If you can make people play honest or have to double-cover you …"

Unfortunately for Tennessee, the big-play wideouts who made people play honest in 2006 (Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith) are out of eligibility. That's why there could be a big play shortage in 2007.

"You're talking about Pickens being the 13th to 16th pick (in the NFL Draft)," Fulmer said, inadvertently referring to Meachem as former Vol receiver Carl Pickens. "It'll be tough to replace that. There's not anybody out there right now that can be that kind of player.

"Can they as a unit develop and be productive? I certainly hope so. Today was a positive sign. Austin Rogers made some really nice plays. Josh Briscoe some nice plays. Quintin Hancock has been making some big plays. But I'm looking for some consistency in making plays for us."

Fulmer nearly referred to Meachem as Pickens a second time but caught himself. Informed he made the mistake earlier, the coach laughed and said: "That's the kind of athlete – Meachem, Pickens, Alvin Harper, Peerless Price – that changes the way defenses play because he can make such a big difference."

Although he was encouraged by the play of the wideouts in Thursday's scrimmaging, Fulmer remains eager to see the heralded pass receivers Tennessee signed in February on the practice field.

"I'm hopeful that some of those guys coming in can give us the speed factor," he said.

In his ongoing effort to give Tennessee's passing game more of a big-play dimension, Fulmer has been using speedy tailback LaMarcus Coker as a slotback in practice this spring.

"We've put Coker out there in the slot some – a la Reggie Bush," Fulmer said. "Not that he's Reggie Bush or anything, but he's a pretty exciting guy in the open field."


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