"I've been throwing with them twice a week for six or seven weeks now," Ainge said. "They're great athletes. We've got more speed at receiver right now than we did last year, for sure. They're not quite as big or as strong but there's a little more speed and agility, so you can definitely work with that."
The new crop of receivers also has caught the eye of Vol center Josh McNeil. Asked which ones impressed him most, he laughed.
"All of ‘em," he said. "They came in and everybody was like, ‘Wow! Look at these guys!' Every single one of 'em has good size and they're all fast. That's one thing I've noticed about every one of them: They can REALLY run."
As Vol fans are acutely aware, the departure of Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith from the 2006 receiving corps leaves Tennessee with four returning wideouts who caught a total of 26 passes last fall. Lucas Taylor grabbed 14, Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe five each, Quintin Hancock two.
Given the inexperience of these so-called "veterans," there is an excellent chance that O'Neal, Vinson and perhaps one of the true freshmen will be in the wideout rotation when Tennessee opens the 2007 season Sept. 1 at California.
"I don't know how it's going to shake out," Ainge said. "Whether it ends up being Lucas Taylor and Austin Rogers or it ends up being some of these guys we've brought in, we're going to have good athletes outside."
Although the newcomers are relatively unfamiliar with the UT offense, Ainge suggests that isn't a huge problem. He says that the Vols "changed 80 percent of how we did everything" when David Cutcliffe replaced Randy Sanders as offensive coordinator in the spring of 2006. If the entire offensive cast could learn Cutcliffe's system last August, O'Neal and Vinson ought to be able to pick it up this August.
Besides, based on what he has seen this summer, Ainge believes the rookie receivers are quick studies who will pick up the offense in short order.
"They do a good job," he said. "But I'm still working on ‘em. Like everybody, they need to figure out how much time they need to work on their own."
One thing Ainge is trying to impart to the young wideouts is the value of film study. It can be an invaluable resource if done with the proper focus and attention to detail.
"Otherwise," he said, "you just go in there and watch it like a fan."
Knowing the wide receiver spots are wide open, the newcomers are working diligently to learn as much as they can before preseason drills begin on Aug. 3.
"They're always there," Ainge said. "I can call 'em at any time or send 'em a text-message – ‘Let's watch film at 3' – and they all show up."
The key question: Which ones will "show up" this fall?