Unfortunately for Tennessee, Meachem decided to cash in while his stock was soaring, jumping to the NFL rather than returning for his senior season of college. That leaves the Vols without their marquee wideout. And, if you factor in the departure 2006 seniors Jayson Swain and Bret Smith, the Vols are without a legitimate candidate to succeed him. Even head coach Phillip Fulmer admits that's cause for concern.
"Everybody has a concern when you lose a first-rounder like Robert Meachem," the Vol coach says. "Then you lose good players like Jayson Swain and Bret Smith. That's a lot of catches and a lot of experience leaving the team."
Minus Meachem, Swain and Smith, Tennessee's returning receiving corps consists of Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers, Josh Briscoe and Quintin Hancock. Taylor caught 14 passes in 2006, Rogers and Briscoe five each, Hancock two. No one in that quartet strikes fear in the hearts of opposing defensive backs but Fulmer believes the foursome has potential.
"I love the attitude our receivers had in spring practice," he says. "I don't think there's a Robert Meachem out there right now but Quintin Hancock, Lucas Taylor, Josh Briscoe and Austin Rogers ... they'll be in the right place at the right time and they'll catch the football."
That may be true. Still, it would be nice to have a guy that goes beyond the basic requirements of the position – a guy like Meachem with the talent to turn little plays into big plays. Fulmer concedes as much.
"We're looking for that dynamic guy, whether it be Quintin or a guy that's coming in," the coach says. "The junior college guy we signed (Kenny O'Neal) ... we're expecting big things from him."
Although many fans believe this year's wideout group lacks big-play potential, Fulmer remains optimistic that a playmaker or two can be developed.
"We'll find a way to create some big plays in our offense with our receiver corps," the coach said.
One overwhelming positive in the equation is this: Tennessee's youth and inexperience at receiver is offset somewhat by Tennessee's maturity and experience at tight end.
Seniors Chris Brown and Brad Cottam are as good a 1-2 punch as any tight end tandem in the NCAA. Both will start in UT's two-tight alignment. Moreover, backups Jeff Cottam and Luke Stocker are terrific prospects.
"At tight end, I think we've got a couple or three guys that can be as good as anybody in the league," Fulmer notes. "They did a good job last year but they'll have to play an even more prominent role this year. "