Young guns

Sometimes progress is measured in inches. Sometimes it's measured in light-years.

Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer says redshirt freshman receiver Ahmad Paige has "a million miles to go" in his bid to become one of the Vols' top receivers. If that's the case, though, Paige must've come at least 100,000 miles in Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage. He led all receivers with 73 yards on seven catches.

The 6-1, 180-pounder from Monroe, La., played in the U.S. Army All-America Game as a high school senior and was one of the most celebrated signees in Tennessee's 2007 recruiting class. Because he lacked strength, however, he redshirted last fall while adding bulk and hitting the weights.

Now, having gained five pounds of muscle, he appears physical enough to provide the downfield blocking the Vols require of their wideouts. In fact, his blocking has overshadowed his receiving skills at times this spring.

Fulmer said he was "real disappointed" with Paige's performance in last Tuesday's situational scrimmage until he watched the practice film.

"He was blocking EVERYBODY," the head man recalled. "I said, 'Well, if you can't catch it, we'll make you a wide blocker. You don't have to be a wide receiver.'"

Paige apparently took the tongue-in-cheek threat to heart. He was working extra hard to get open in Saturday's scrimmage.

"I think he thought he'd better catch a couple of balls," Fulmer said, grinning smugly. "It was good to see that."

Paige caught "a couple of balls," all right, but only after a disastrous start. On the 14th play of the scrimmage he failed to use his hands on a pass from B. J. Coleman. As a result, a perfectly thrown ball bounded off his chest, costing the Vols a 15-yard gain.

Paige quickly made amends, however. On the very next possession he caught passes from Nick Stephens for gains of 5, 15, 38 and 4 yards. He added receptions covering 7, 3 and 1 yards later in the workout and showed a tremendous burst of speed on a 19-yard punt return.

"Ahmad's getting better," Fulmer said, "but he has a million miles to go."

Another young Vol getting a chance to showcase his skills this spring is Tauren Poole, a 5-10, 200-pound freshman tailback from Toccoa, Ga. Poole ran for 2,138 yards as a senior at Stephens County High, graduated in December, then entered UT as a mid-term enrollee in January.

Slowed by a minor knee injury similar to the ones that hindered Arian Foster and Lennon Creer last fall, Poole got his first full-scale action of the spring in Saturday's scrimmage. He picked up five yards on his first carry but gained just four more on seven subsequent rushes, finishing with 9 net yards on eight attempts. He also caught a couple of passes. Overall, Fulmer was encouraged.

"It was good to see Tauren out here," the head man said. "He's got a slight tear in the miniscus, and he's played through it. I'm hopeful he'll get the work. He's a tough guy. He's a good player, and he definitely has a chance to make an impact on our team this year."

Paige and Poole weren't the only young players who caught the head man's eye on Saturday. Fulmer thought several of the underclassmen showed a little more pep in their step.

"I talked about the demeanor and the speed of the game, playing with energy and enthusiasm and those kind of things," the head man said. "I think we did take a step in the right direction that way."


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