No time for gloating

Tennessee's wide receivers played a near-perfect game last Saturday night against Southern Miss. Their reward: Some punitive running.

Austin Rogers had a team-high seven catches for 112 yards in the game but failed to reel in one ball that receivers coach Trooper Taylor deemed catchable.

"Austin had the one drop, and I was pretty hard on his case about that after Sunday's evaluation," Taylor said, adding that all of his wideouts "had to do some extra running for that."

Other than Rogers' drop, Tennessee's wideouts caught everything thrown in their vicinity. They carried out their assignments precisely, ran their routes crisply and blocked aggressively. In short, they were outstanding in the Southern Miss game.

What makes this especially noteworthy is the fact that every newspaper, magazine, website and talk show spent the preseason bemoaning the Vols' lack of playmakers at the receiver position.

Is it time for a little gloating?

"Nah, there ain't no gloating," Taylor said. "There's still hard work. That's it. Nothing has changed.... It's a process. Like I tell them, 'Even a broke clock can be right twice a day.' I want them to be consistent."

Vol wideouts may not feel like gloating but they feel vindicated in view of all the criticism aimed toward them as the 2007 season approached.

"I think there's still a chip on their shoulders because they read all these things and heard everything that was being said," Taylor noted. "Everybody was asking about the freshmen and talking about everybody but them.... I think it was more of a pride thing."

In fairness to the media, even head coach Phillip Fulmer wasn't expecting much from the '07 receiver corps. He figured the Vols would run, run, run and run some more.

"He walked into our first meeting during two-a-days and talked about the blocks he wants," Taylor recalled. "When he left, they asked, 'Are we going to throw a single pass?' I said, 'Boys, that's going to be up to you all, whether you make a play or not.'"

Based on what he heard from Fulmer and picked up from the media, the Vol receiver coach was wondering if he should bother teaching his guys to run routes or just drill them on blocking techniques.

"If I'd believed everything that was being written and said," he quipped, "it was going to be three yards and a cloud of dust."

Two games into the season, however, Tennessee's passing game is alive and well. Quarterback Erik Ainge, despite a broken pinky on his throwing hand, has completed 55 of 83 passes (66.3 percent) for 547 yards and five touchdowns. Obviously, he's had some help from a surprisingly competent receiving corps.

"It's a credit to those guys," Taylor said. "If you watch them work, they work their butts off."

Tennessee's wideouts also are throwing some blocks downfield, which has helped Arian Foster average 107 rushing yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry.

"You find a better blocking group of receivers and I'd like to see them," Taylor said. "These guys take pride in that."

Naturally, the receivers coach deserves some credit for the performance of his wideouts. Still, he says a big share of the credit goes to Ainge for showing faith in them.

As Taylor recalled: "He came into it with everybody saying, 'Who you going to throw it to? They're going to throw it to (tight end Brad) Cottam, then he's gone. Then it was going to (tight end) Chris Brown and then the backs. For him to fight through all that and stick with those guys meant a lot to them (receivers) and got their confidence up.

"They don't want to let him down. They're not worried about me. They don't want to let Erik down. He's the one that stood up for them when everybody else was saying that they weren't going to make plays."

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