Blessed To Receive

If you want to know what Tennessee is missing you simply have to follow the recruiting trail and note the prospects they're seeking. Nowhere is that need by association more clearly defined than at wide receiver.

Take a look at the four highest ranked receivers the Vols are currently contending for in the Class of 2008 and you find an unmistakable commonality. For example:

• There is little separation in this pack as they are respectively ranked No. 12, No. 15, No. 17 and No. 21 among wide receivers nationally.

• Three of wideouts are 6-foot-3 and the fourth is 6-4. Two are listed at 210 pounds and two are listed at 195.

• They're all extremely athletic with speed ranging from 4.45 to 4.59 and impressive verticals of 35 inches and above.

• They're each capable of turning short passes into big plays. They can make the tough catches over the middle and beat defenses over the top.

In short: they are big, strong, fast and talented. They average a shade above 6-3, 203 pounds and run a 4.5 flat 40. The Vols haven't had a receiver fitting that description since Robert Meachem left for NFL fortune earlier this year.

It's reasonable to suggest that either Jameel Owens, Kenny Tate, Gerrell Robinson or Josh Jarboe could make a significant contribution for the Vols next season and go on to become Wide Receiver U's next go-to, big-play pass catcher. (We won't get greedy and presume the Vols could land two of these topflight talents. Not yet anyway.)

That's not to in anyway disparage the play of UT's 2007 wide receiver corps. UT's great untested stood up well against some of the toughest competition in America. There are some good receivers on the roster, and the potential of Gerald Jones is exciting.

But Brent Vinson's move to cornerback and Kenny O'Neal's disappointing junior season, leaves the Vols in need of a big-play receiver, who can draw double coverage. The fact opposing defenses didn't have to double a UT wideout this year meant they usually had an extra DB dedicated to stopping the run. Forcing defenses to double team a wide receiver neutralizes its numerical advantage and creates coverage fissures that can be exploited underneath or with trail routes.

Ideally you've got at least one other receiver capable of consistently beating single coverage deep to take full advantage of the defensive double team. That's what UT had in the early nineties with Alvin Harper, Carl Pickens and Anthony Morgan and again in the mid nineties with Joey Kent, Marcus Nash and Peerless Price, who capped his career with the MVP award of the national title game, where he was joined by Cedric Wilson and Eric Parker.

The last trio capable of backing off the defense was in 2001 with Donte Stallworth, Kelley Washington and tight end Jason Witten. (Whatever happened to that guy?) After Stallworth entered the NFL Draft as a junior and Washington missed virtually the entire 2002 season with an assortment injuries, Tennessee's starting wide receivers were Leonard Scott and Tony Brown.

Meachem reminded Tennessee fans what a prototypical pro-style receiver can do for an offense, even when he's not catching passes. Unfortunately it is the only season since 2001 that the Vols presented that type of a pre-snap threat, and it was only one receiver instead of a scheme-bending tandem or trio.

It's impossible to say if any of the aforementioned wide receiver prospects will ever become a go-to target at the next level. However it's fair to say they are all good candidates to become such receivers. And it's not farfetched to believe Tennessee has such a receiver on campus. Lucas Taylor is certainly an excellent complementary receiver but he lacks the speed and size to stretch a secondary.

A true freshman, Jones appears to have the athletic ability and skill set to become such a receiver, and redshirt freshman Ahmad Page has a very high ceiling once he adds the necessary strength and weight to get off the line cleanly. Darnius Moore and Quintin Hancock are SEC caliber competitors with high projections.

If Tennessee can add another impact receiver, or two, from a group that includes Owens, Tate, Robinson or Jarboe, its air attack may not miss a beat.


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