Lucas gets the drop on foes

Six games into the 2007 season he leads Tennessee in receptions (41). He ranks No. 1 in the SEC and No. 12 nationally in receiving yards per game (103.0). He ranks second among SEC receivers in catches per game (6.8).

Last weekend against Mississippi State he caught 11 passes – most since Kelley Washington caught the same number vs. LSU in 2001. He converted those grabs into 186 receiving yards – most since Washington hung 197 on Rutgers in 2002.

Still, the most impressive number wide receiver Lucas Taylor has compiled this fall may be zero. That's the number of balls he has dropped. Considering he dropped nearly as many balls as he caught in his first two years with the program, that's downright amazing.

"I don't want to jinx the kid," Vol receivers coach Trooper Taylor said this week, "but Lucas hasn't had a drop yet. That's very rare for those things to happen."

Lucas Taylor, a 6-0, 185-pound junior from Carencro, La., is on pace to catch 82 balls this season, which easily would surpass the total of 71 All-American Robert Meachem compiled in 13 games last season. Teams routinely double-teamed Meachem a year ago, a tactic opponents may start using on Taylor pretty soon.

"If I was playing him, I would be," Trooper Taylor said. "But everybody has their own style. Some coaches say, 'I'm going to run my stuff and you have to beat it.' Some coaches say, 'We're going to take this guy away.' When you do that, it opens something else, so usually you like to stick with what you're doing."

Tennessee's offensive coordinator believes the way the Vols are utilizing Lucas Taylor will prevent most opponents from trying to double-team him.

"Lucas is catching a lot of balls but he's catching them in different places, which is good because it's a little harder to double a guy," David Cutcliffe said. "But they know the majority of the time he's going to be the split end into the boundary. We got a lot of that a year ago with Robert Meachem. That position lends itself to that (double-teaming)."

Even with Taylor popping up in different places, he is likely to be double-teamed at some point this season ... just not this week at Alabama.

"Certainly, Lucas has become a quality playmaker," Cutcliffe said. "I'd say we're going to see some double-coverage in some regards. But Alabama's cornerbacks are really good. We all know about Simeon Castille. They're not afraid to take people one on one."

If Taylor can become enough of a threat that opposing defenses begin to double-cover him, that obviously will create more opportunities for fellow wideouts Josh Briscoe and Austin Rogers.

"A year ago we had (Jayson) Swain out and Meachem was really being smothered by Georgia, and Bret Smith took advantage of it and had a big day," Cutcliffe recalled. "Generally, if they do double-cover the boundary receiver you've got some opportunities down the middle of the field. You hope guys like Austin and Briscoe can take advantage of that."

Phillip Fulmer concedes that he would be tempted to double-team Taylor if he showed up on an opposing team.

"If we were going against him," the Vols' head man said, "he would certainly be a concern for us."

One reason Fulmer believes opponents have not yet begun double-teaming Taylor is that senior quarterback Erik Ainge has been doing a terrific job finding secondary receivers this fall.

"People have to pay attention to Lucas now," Fulmer noted, "but in our system Erik is going to find the open guy. If Lucas isn't open, Erik is going through his progressions and finding somebody else. One reason Meachem was double-teamed last year was that Erik was looking for him a lot."

Trooper Taylor agrees whole-heartedly with that assessment.

"Really, this breakout game for him (vs. Mississippi State) has been good but I think what helps our group as a whole is that Erik doesn't concentrate and find just one guy, like he did with Meachem in the past. I think he's going through his progressions, and whoever's open, that's who he's getting it to."

More often than not, Ainge's progression ends with Lucas Taylor, who has been open on a regular basis this season.

"Some of the defenses are giving Lucas an opportunity," Trooper Taylor said, "and that's where Erik's been going."

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