Weapons at wideout

A year ago at this time, one of the major concerns for Tennessee's football team entering spring practice was the wide receiver position.

Who would make the big plays like Robert Meachem? Who would be dependable like Jayson Swain? Who would find the end zone like Bret Smith?

Tennessee's top three receivers in 2006 combined caught 159 passes.

Tennessee's top three receivers entering 2007 had 24 combined receptions.

The spring concern turned into a fantastic fall.

Lucas Taylor (73 catches), Austin Rogers (56) and Josh Briscoe (56) combined for 185 catches – 26 more than the terrific trio of 2006.

Taylor, Rogers and Briscoe exceeded everyone's expectations.

But they did fall short in one category: yards per catch.

Meachem averaged 18.3, Swain 14.0 and Smith 11.6

Taylor averaged 13.7, Rogers 11.1 and Briscoe 9.9

One reason for the difference is that quarterback Erik Ainge suffered a shoulder injury in the season opener against California and was relegated to an underneath passing game. Another reason might have been an inability of Taylor, Rogers and Briscoe to break tackles.

Latrell Scott, UT‘s new wide receivers coach, believes he has enough athletes at his position to improve on the yards per catch.

``I think one of the things people don't give these guys credit for is the ability to run after the catch,'' Scott said. ``I think we've got a really athletic bunch.

``If you're a wide receiver, you need to be able to take a hitch and get something after the catch. We don't want possession guys. I don't think we have any.''

Rogers has been labeled a possession guy, perhaps because of the stereotype – he's white. But Rogers has good speed. He's got to figure out a way to break tackles.

Taylor, who once rushed for more than 500 yards in a losing cause in high school, can break tackles. Briscoe is the fastest of the trio. He should make more big plays.

Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore are gifted athletes. Quintin Hancock and Ahmad Paige, who redshirted last year, have good speed.

``I tell you what, Gerald Jones is a great athlete from what I've seen so far,'' Scott said. ``Denarius is a great athlete, as well. Another guy, Paige, has to have a big spring for us because we're looking for Ahmad to give us the ability to throw deep. Ahmad Paige can run and that's half the battle. But he's got to continue to develop as a wide receiver.''

Scott is keenly aware that the Vols didn't stretch the field often last year due to Ainge's shoulder. He believes that will change this season.

``I think there are ways you can get deep by running by people,'' Scott said. ``I think you can get what we call sneaky deep – you can play-action or double cut people, so we'll definitely take our shots deep.''

Scott believes the Vols will become adept at defeating bump-and-run coverage.

``I tell you what, we're going to play against one of the best secondaries in the SEC every day,'' Scott said. ``And I know (secondary coach) Larry (Slade) and his guys are going to press us.

``That comes down to me teaching those guys the correct technique and those guys being athletic enough to be able to get off that type of coverage. We're going to be fine when it comes to being able to play against press coverage.''

Unlike the previous staff, Scott wants to play a multitude of receivers, not three or four.

``I feel like I've got between seven to nine guys that can contribute,'' Scott said. ``We like to play as many as we can. We like to keep those guys fresh without losing anything. If we can play six, seven, eight, nine guys and not lose a step, we'll play as many as we can play.

``That's a great group of young men.''

And, unlike the previous staff, Scott isn't sure he'll try to teach each receiver the three wideout positions in the Tennessee offense.

``We're going to base it on whatever their strengths are,'' he said. ``Obviously we have to find out how they fit into this offense and where they play. As a base, most of those guys will start out where they were, but we want to find out who can make plays and where is the best place for them to make them.''

And unlike the spring of a year ago, the Vols have quite a few weapons at wideout.

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