Taylor's torrid start

Through Tennessee's first four games of 2007, Lucas Taylor has more receptions than All-American Robert Meachem had through the first four games of 2006.

It's true. The heralded Meachem, a first-round NFL Draft pick, had 23 catches and 420 receiving yards four games into last season. The largely unheralded Lucas Taylor has 24 catches for 382 yards four games into this season.

No one saw that coming, although Tennessee's coaches insist they aren't as surprised by Taylor's output as Tennessee's fans are.

"I don't think he's a surprise to us necessarily because Lucas has been very consistent and we've seen the catches in practice," head coach Phillip Fulmer said this week. "He just hasn't had a chance to do it enough in a game."

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor (no relation) echoed those sentiments.

"I wouldn't say it's a surprise because of the way he works," the Vol aide said. "The big deal is the timing between him and Erik (Ainge). Erik is like a comfort zone for him; he'll look for him and find him and get the ball to him because he feels good that Lucas will do what he's supposed to do and give great effort."

Taylor's most noteworthy effort to date was a spectacular one-handed catch on the third play of Game 4 vs. Arkansas State last Saturday. Running in the flat, he leaped to get his right hand on a high throw, juggled the ball momentarily, then secured it and raced 23 yards downfield. That big gain spurred a six-play, 64-yard touchdown drive that gave the Vols a quick 7-0 lead on route to a 48-27 triumph.

"That one-handed catch was special the other night," Fulmer said.

Taylor turned in another gem later in the game, catching a quick hitch, breaking a tackle and sprinting to the end zone to complete a 24-yard touchdown play.

"The guys were so excited because it was his first touchdown," Trooper Taylor said. "They were as excited as if they had scored. I'm talking about offensive linemen and running backs all flying to him to congratulate him because they know how hard he's worked, yet this was the first time he'd been in the end zone."

That kind of catch/run is what Tennessee desperately needs from a receiving corps that entered this season with no proven playmakers.

"They understand what they have to do," Trooper Taylor said. "I tell them all the time that they have to make those kinds of plays for us to be successful or it's going to be a long day."

Lucas Taylor came to UT with glowing high school credentials, having once rushed for 539 yards in a single game. When he failed to make his mark in 2005 or 2006, however, many observers figured he needed better skills. Instead, he merely needed a chance.

"You can't do it when you're not out there but a few snaps," Trooper Taylor said. "Meachem was there, so it was really hard for Lucas to get out there and get that opportunity."

With Meachem's jump to the NFL leaving the Vols without a go-to receiver, Lucas Taylor has been working harder than ever in an effort to fill the void.

"You find one play on tape where he's loafing, and I'll give you $100," Trooper Taylor said. "And if you'll give me $1 for each play that he doesn't loaf, I bet you I'll have more money at the end of the day than you will."

To illustrate his point, the Vol aide noted that on the screen pass LaMarcus Coker lugged 25 yards to paydirt vs. Arkansas State, Taylor made one of the key blocks.

"He hit his linebacker and knocked him into another lineman," Trooper Taylor said, "and LaMarcus was able to go and score."

Asked to summarize Lucas Taylor's play, his position coach replied without hesitation.

"The big word is consistent," Trooper Taylor said. "He is very consistent. He's making the plays he's supposed to make and he's making a few that people didn't expect him to make."

You'd figure that, since he caught just 14 passes in 2006, Lucas Taylor's emergence as Tennessee's leading receiver would provide a tremendous boost to his confidence level. That isn't the case, though.

"I don't know that Lucas lacked confidence," Trooper Taylor said. "I think it's more Erik's confidence in him. He trusts him to be where he's supposed to be. A couple of times (vs. Arkansas State) Erik threw the ball before Lucas even came out of his break, and they connected. That tells you that the timing and the confidence is there."

Obviously, there's a lot of football still to be played this season. For now, though, Lucas Taylor is the Vols' feel-good story of 2007. His coaches and teammates are thrilled by his strong showing to date.

"It's good to see him having success because he's one of the finest young men I've been around," Fulmer said. "He is absolutely a great person."

Taylor goes even further.

"If they were giving points as far as character and things like that, he'd be an All-American," the Vol aide noted. "I hope my son will grow up to be like him because he's a great kid."


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