Tougher target

He spent his first two years as a Tennessee receiver looking to (A) catch the football and (B) avoid contact. The latter seemed more important to him than the former, which is why he did most of his looking from the sidelines.

There is a new and improved Josh Briscoe for 2007, however. A year of Trooper Taylor tirades has toughened him mentally and a year of dedicated work in the weight room has toughened him physically. As a result, he finds himself tied for the team lead with 17 receptions heading into Game 4 Saturday night against Arkansas State.

Briscoe, a 6-3, 185-pound junior from Lawndale, N.C., is happy to be where he is today but he admits that the journey wasn't always fun.

"It's been very tough," he said. "It was hard on me when Trooper first came over (after coaching running backs in 2004 and 2005). There's a big difference between Coach (Pat) Washington and Trooper.

"Coach Washington was a laid-back guy. He'd correct you when you needed correcting but he wasn't a guy to yell at you too much or to send you running a lot. That's been the biggest adjustment."

Taylor has a big voice and isn't shy about using it when a receiver displeases him. He isn't shy about making the receivers do up-downs and penalty running when they fall short of expectations, either.

"He's made it so we set high standards for ourselves," Briscoe said. "When you drop a pass, it's not like, ‘Oh, well, I'll catch the next one.' He says, ‘If you drop that one, that could've been a touchdown pass against Georgia or Florida that we needed.' He just made us take every play in practice and made it look like it was a game"

Under a laid-back coach like Pat Washington, Briscoe was a laid-back player. Under an aggressive coach like Trooper Taylor, Briscoe has become a more aggressive player.

"I'm mentally tougher," he said, "just because of the pressure Trooper has put on us and the expectations he has for us to go out and play and succeed … not only in games but in practice."

Whereas Taylor helped him grow stronger mentally, Briscoe deserves the credit for growing stronger physically. He has added 10 pounds of muscle since arriving at UT as a rail-thin freshman two years ago.

"I'm a lot stronger," he said. "I've gained weight. Trooper has pushed me to be more physical, to drop my shoulder and run somebody over … not run out of bounds or look to get down. That's something I did my freshman year – catch the ball, get the yards you can get, then get down to save your body for the next play.

"He's really changed that. It's not about saving your body for the next play. It's the play right now that counts."

After catching just four passes as a freshman and five as a sophomore, Briscoe is on pace to catch 68 balls this season. He recorded team-highs for both receptions (8) and receiving yards (76) last Saturday against No. 3 Florida. Naturally, that provided a huge emotional lift.

"To go out and be physical, the way Trooper has helped me become, has really got my confidence up," he said. "It really helped that it was against Florida – a good SEC football team – as far as knowing I can do it on an every-day basis."

With Austin Rogers and Lucas Taylor filling the wide receiver positions, Briscoe has found a niche as the "Y" or slot receiver. A big part of his job is going over the middle, a task which requires a level of toughness he lacked prior to this fall.

"We have good speed between Lucas and Austin on the outside," he said. "Just keeping the safety true is what I try to do, so those two guys can't get double-covered. It's the same role that Bret Smith played last year – a guy in the middle to give the quarterback another option."

Now that Briscoe has had a breakout-type game against Florida, what's the next step?

"Just go back to practice and make the tough catches," he said. "There was a couple of catches in the game that I should've made, where the defensive back was over my back or something. I've just got to continue to work on that."

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