Pressure's on Vol WRs

Tennessee's fans realize the Vols will try to rely on their ground game this fall until the youthful receivers mature enough to provide a reliable passing attack.

The problem is, Tennessee's opponents realize this, too. They'll be crowding the line of scrimmage and literally daring the Vols to put the ball in the air. If Tennessee's young wideouts can make a few plays, the result could be some big gains. If they can't make a few plays, the result could be disaster.

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor knows this better than anyone, and he routinely shares this insight with his troops.

"I tell ‘em: 'Guys, you've got to make plays. Otherwise, we're going to see nine-man fronts, maybe 10-man fronts. You're going to find out what press coverage is about because if you CAN'T go out there and make plays on the perimeter, you're going to be down by seven.'"

After three weeks of preseason drills Tennessee's young receivers still have a lot to learn. They are improving, however, and that progress is evident on the practice field. In Tuesday's final preseason scrimmage the wideouts carried out their assignments correctly for the most part and reeled in almost every pass that was catchable.

"(Josh) Briscoe made a great catch, and Denarius (Moore) made a nice one-handed grab," Taylor recalled.

Ahmad Paige, a heralded freshman who has had a very quiet preseason, finally broke loose with an 88-yard catch/run. It came against third-team defenders but Taylor was pleased, nonetheless. The Vol aide was even more pleased to see the 6-3, 175-pound Paige throwing some downfield blocks.

"He's improved on his blocking," the Vol aide said. "It really wasn't his ball skills (holding him back). It was more about him being physical enough to go block."

Paige attempted to be more physical in Tuesday's scrimmage. He didn't always succeed but his effort earned praise from his position coach.

"He really tried to get physical," Taylor said. "As a matter of fact, he was letting me know every time he hit somebody. He was giving me the ‘Hooty-hoo' to the sideline. I told him he'd better get the signal before he missed the next play but it was good to see him go out there and give that kind of effort."

With the Sept. 1 opener at California just nine days away, it appears that sophomore Austin Rogers, junior Lucas Taylor, junior Josh Briscoe and sophomore Quintin Hancock are the Vols' top four receivers.

"We're still looking for a couple of other big-time receivers," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "Denarius Moore has moved himself into that group of guys we can count on. And Kenny (O'Neal) gives us a threat. He's just got to hold onto the ball and catch it better.""

Moore, the most polished of the freshmen, seems to have locked up the No. 5 spot in the wideout rotation with an impressive fall camp.

"Denarius Moore has probably made the most progress because he's made the most plays," Taylor said. "He's the most game ready-looking kid . He's lining up, hitting people, being physical, taking care of the ball and those kind of things."

O'Neal had some drops and fumbles in preseason scrimmages but will make the trip to Berkeley because he has the kind of blazing speed that can stretch defenses vertically.

Freshman Gerald Jones was productive in the first two scrimmages but sat out the third one with a sore hamstring. If healthy, he'll likely suit up for the Cal game, as well.

Freshman Todd Campbell, who enrolled at mid-term and participated in spring practice, has a chance to make the trip to Cal, also.

Brent Vinson has struggled a bit in preseason and fellow freshman Tyler Maples is way behind after spending the first nine days of fall camp at safety. They could be headed for redshirt years, along with Paige.


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