Bayou benefits

Two of Tennessee's top pass catchers grew up less than 90 minutes from Baton Rouge when Nick Saban was on fire at LSU.

Saban, now Alabama's coach, had just won a national championship. He had just won two SEC championships, including one over Tennessee in 2001.

But that wasn't enough to convince tight end Chris Brown to attend the home-state school. Wide receiver Lucas Taylor was recruited by Saban but never offered.

Taylor is from Carencro, La., a suburb of Lafayette. He was a star quarterback who rushed for 500 yards in one game. He said LSU recruited him as an athlete but never made an offer. It wouldn't have matter.

``I'd made up my mind I wanted to leave home,'' Taylor said.

Taylor caught 14 passes his first two seasons, playing behind a trio of talented receivers. More than one UT coach described him as a good athlete, but not a good football player. He had trouble learning his assignments and running routes.

Now, as a junior, Taylor has emerged. He has 41 catches for 618 yards. He leads the SEC in receiving yards per game.

Taylor said he built a bond with quarterback Erik Ainge in the spring. It continued through the summer.

``If I keep doing what I've been doing in practice, we should be all right,'' Taylor said.

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor is blown away by Lucas Taylor's progress. If you'd told Trooper that Lucas would catch 41 passes, he would have thought it would be for the season, not mid-season.

``The thing about the kid, he practices at the same tempo that he plays with,'' said Trooper, no relation to Lucas. ``He really studies the tape and he's done a great job building a relationship with Erik Ainge.

``He can concentrate, focus and pay attention to detail. The other day he caught a ball against Mississippi State after stumbling off a cover two corner (route), and Erik threw it between the corner and the safety. He (Lucas) had about six inches to catch that ball and he was able to get his eyes and hands on the football and make that play. There's not a lot of people that can do that.

``And he's fearless. You can hit him with a pipe, as long as the ball is coming, and he's not taking his eyes off that football.''

Trooper said Lucas has earned his confidence. During preseason, Denarius Moore was making more plays in August, and Trooper told Lucas that if Moore kept making more plays, he could start.

``Lucas took that to heart,'' Trooper said. ``I think he kind of sulked up a little bit but he responded and he hasn't looked back.''

Brown is from Destrehan, which is closer to New Orleans. Recruited by former UT receivers coach Pat Washington, Brown felt a need to leave Louisiana, despite LSU's rousing success.

``I took a visit to LSU,'' Brown said. ``He (Saban) had it going. All the fans liked him a lot. He won a national championship. He did a lot of special things. But LSU wasn't for me. Half of my high school went there. If I'd gone to LSU, it'd be like going to a bigger high school.

``I needed a change of scenery. I needed to get out of Louisiana. I'd been there my whole life. I wanted to go somewhere different, meet new people and try to be a special player wherever I went.''

Brown has been special. After catching 31 passes last season, he's got 21 this season for five touchdowns – the most among receivers. He's also developed into a solid blocker. He plays tight end, H-Back and fullback. He's played so well, offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said the Vols are recruiting someone to play the ``Chris Brown'' position.

That compliment means a lot to Brown.

``It's overwhelming,'' he said. ``Coach Cut and I, we've had our bad days and we've had our share of good days. It means a lot to hear that come from Coach Cut. I really don't know how to explain it, how good it feels for them to say they're recruiting someone to do what I've done.''

Brown has done more than he bargained for, in part because of injuries to fullback David Holbert and tight end Brad Cottam.

``When Holbert and Cottam got hurt, I knew my role would grow,'' Brown said. ``I've accepted my responsibility of being the go-to guy on the field.''

FULMER ON VERGE OF TYING HISTORY

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer is on the verge of tying history.

Gen. Robert Neyland is the only coach with 12 wins against Alabama. He went 12-5-1 against the Tide in his 21 seasons as Tennessee's coach.

Fulmer is 11-3, counting a forfeit win of a tie in 1993. A win Saturday would make Fulmer 12-3 against Alabama, better than Neyland's winning percentage. Fulmer won seven in a row against Alabama (1995-2001). No other coach has done that.

John Ward, the long-time Voice of the Vols, said he doesn't think Fulmer gets enough credit for his record against Alabama.

``Underplayed, probably,'' Ward said. ``The fact that Coach Bryant won 11 in a row (against UT), that was probably overplayed to a certain degree in Knoxville and Tennessee. If you look back on that, against SEC teams, Alabama only lost six conference games during that period. So everybody was whomped by Alabama, not just Tennessee.

``Is Fulmer's record underplayed? Probably is. The reason for that is Bryant is not the coach, point one. If he (Fulmer) had won 11 times against Bryant, that would be a bigger story. … To me it's very impressive, very impressive.''

Fulmer is 3-1 against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He is 6-1 against Alabama in the state of Alabama. UT has lost just once in Birmingham or Tuscaloosa since the end of the 1991 season – 6-3 in 2005.

WOODS HOLDS NO GRUDGE

Tennessee receiver-placekick holder Casey Woods finds himself in an interesting situation.

Last week, Woods played against Mississippi State, the team that didn't retain his father, Sparky Woods, as an assistant coach when Sly Croom was hired after the 2003 season.

This week, Woods will play against Alabama, which did not retain his father when Nick Saban was hired last December.

Woods said he bears no grudge against either program for firing his father.


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