Life after Meachem

Whenever Tennessee faced a third-and-long situation in 2006 everyone in the stadium knew quarterback Erik Ainge would be looking for Robert Meachem ... including the opposing defenders.

Still, Meachem finished the season with a team-high 71 catches, nearly equaling the combined output of Jayson Swain (49) and Bret Smith (39).

The Vols do not have a receiver with Meachem-type talent in 2007. So, lacking a clear-cut go-to guy, they are spreading the ball among an assortment of players. Lucas Taylor has 24 receptions for 382 yards and two touchdowns. Josh Briscoe has 23 for 191 yards and one TD. Austin Rogers has 20 for 251 yards and one TD. Tight end Chris Brown has 16 for 138 yards and four TDs.

Obviously, Tennessee's coaches wish Meachem had returned for his senior season rather than jumping to the NFL last spring. Still, they believe the Vols may be a little less predictable without him.

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor concedes that "Meachem's got more pure talent" than any of the 2007 wideouts. The problem was, opposing defenses swarmed him in obvious passing situations last fall and Ainge tried to get him the ball anyway.

"What happened was Meachem sometimes tried to do too much because of all the hype that came with him," Taylor recalls. "And the flip side was that Erik looked for him all the time."

One advantage to having a bunch of unheralded receivers in 2007 is that no one knows who will be the target on third-and-long anymore ... not even Ainge.

"With the guys we've got now that are pretty unproven it helps Erik go through his progressions and find who's open," Taylor says. "That's why I think (the receptions are) spread out and almost even keel. I think it helps the team when you're not just trying to feed one guy. You go through your progressions and take what the defense gives you. I think that's how we've gotten better there.

"Are we more talented? No. We're not as talented as last year but we work just as hard and the guys make plays."


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