File this column under the category entitled: Man Bites Smokey.

Tennessees quest to sign two or three quality quarterbacks in the Class of 2003 might be impacted by its lack of established receivers.

This is a matter Ive considered on numerous occasions, but never pondered for purposes of publication because there was no clear evidence of such a predicament.

But since the subject was indirectly addressed by QB prospect Kyle Wright, when he announced for Miami on Thursday, it is now fair game.

In truth, it was evident several times when I interviewed quarterback prospects, not in anything they said, but rather in what they didnt say. While enumerating the positive points about UT they would invariably list facilities, fan support, educational opportunities, coaching staff, offensive line, running backs and team camaraderie, but never receivers.

Wright didnt say anything negative about Tennessee in his statement and was overwhelming positive about the football program in interviews prior to his commitment. However he did mention Miamis receivers when listing the reasons he chose the Canes and said no team could match their overall personnel. Since the Vols seem to stack up well with Miami in every other offensive category, the subject of receivers becomes conspicuous by its absence. (By the way, I believe Wrights statement that Southern Cal was his second choice was an effort not to rile home-state fans any more than necessary. Placing the Trojans third would have been insult upon injury.)

With Washington becoming history after this season, Witten projected as a first-round pick and no other prime target on the Big Orange horizon, the Vols could become a tough sell to some star signal callers. And the higher rated the QB prospect, the more problematical the situation becomes.

The point is: if its something I can discern as a potential obstacle, its something thats likely being exploited by recruiting competition.

Thats not to say the Vols are devoid of receivers. The have young candidates with talent that might develop in time < hopefully this season. But they appear to be the complementary variety of pass catcher as opposed to the classic big-play wideout with size, speed, strength and leaping ability i.e. the Alvin Harper, Carl Pickens, Anthony Miller or Marcus Nash type.

Furthermore, most of Tennessees receivers are converted from other positions. C.J. Fayton was a QB/DB in high school, Jonathan Wade a cornerback, Chris Hannon a quarterback and Leonard Scott a tailback. Michael Collins, who transferred last spring, was a quarterback in high school as was Kelley Washington. Of course Washington is an aberration because he experienced a dramatic growth spurt after he graduated high school. And he fell into UTs lap.

Jomo Fagan only caught 45 passes in his high school career and was considered just as good a prospect at defensive back. Tony Brown was an accomplished high school receiver and has had a great start this season, but he doesnt seem to have the characteristics of a big-play receiver. Montrell Jones was an all-American out of Louisville Male High School, but hes been an underachiever to this point and hasnt displayed the mental toughness it takes to succeed in the SEC.

The Vols had success in converting Cedric Wilson to wide receiver after a high school career at quarterback, but hes the exception. Such attempts are normally doomed to failure because great wideouts are born rather than made. This week Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska retired from the NFL after one game because he couldnt make that transition, and he was a third
round pick. Similar experiments with other converted QBs have also failed in pro football.

True freshman receivers probably impact their position more than any other in college football. The SEC is replete with examples of rookie pass
catchers catching on quickly.

However since 1995, Peerless Price and Donte Stallworth are the only receivers Tennessee has signed that possessed the type of ability to have an early impact on offense. And Stallworth was redshirted as a freshman after suffering a series of nagging injuries.

This is certainly different than the late 80s and early 90s when the Vols had plenty of big-play receivers, but sometimes lacked a quarterback capable of consistently taking advantage of their vertical separation on deep routes.

All of this leads one to conclude that Tennessee is either failing to attract top quality receivers or failing to develop them. In fact, these conclusions could be connected. In other words: Tennessees failure to develop receivers may be the reason it fails to attract them.

Whatever the reason this is a critical class to reverse the trend and land a couple of topflight talents. Otherwise, it will become a problem that
everyone talks about and the former Wide Receiver U will be singing the wide receiver blues.

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