Receivers may have impact

The formula for Tennessee's offense this fall seems pretty simple: Three proven tight ends plus two proven backs plus zero proven wide receivers equals an attack built around the backs and tight ends.

Not necessarily, says senior quarterback Erik Ainge.

"It very well could be like that," he said, "and it very well could be the opposite."

Ainge believes some of the Vols' unproven wide receivers may step up between now and the Sept. 1 opener at California. He bases this belief on his faith in offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe and receivers coach Trooper Taylor.

"We could have a couple of guys who, after they get coached by Coach Taylor and Coach Cutcliffe, could be playing great football when we go out there (Berkeley) … as good as anyone we had last year," Ainge said. "We have the athletic ability for guys to be as good as the guys we've had around here."

Tennessee has three proven tight ends in Chris Brown, Brad Cottam and Jeff Cottam. Brown caught 31 passes last fall. Brad Cottam caught just 14 balls but averaged a robust 13.0 yards per catch. Jeff Cottam didn't catch a pass but proved to be an aggressive blocker.

Tennessee also has quality talent at tailback. Even with LaMarcus Coker suspended indefinitely, the Vols have two backs with starting experience. Arian Foster has nine career starts and Montario Hardesty five.

Conversely, Tennessee's receiving corps is green as grass. The returnees – Lucas Taylor, Quintin Hancock, Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe – combined for just 26 catches last fall. Fourteen of those belonged to Taylor. Given the inexperience of the veteran wideouts, there is a chance some heralded newcomers can contribute immediately.

Todd Campbell enrolled at mid-term and has the benefit of a spring practice. Junior college transfer Kenny O'Neal and prep school grad Brent Vinson have the benefit of added maturity. High school grads Ahmad Paige, Gerald Jones, Darnius Moore and Tyler Maples have loads of potential.

All of the above have speed.

"They're all fast," Ainge said. "They can run, they can catch. We just need to find out if they can go across the middle, hold onto the football.

"Can they go up and make a play on the ball? Can they do the right thing every single time? Can they be in the right spot? Can they be where they're supposed to be on every pass play and every run play?"

If the answer to these questions is yes, Tennessee's attack may be tailored to the wide receivers, as well as the tight ends and backs.

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