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- Lucas Taylor has got to be in the rotation. The 6-0, 185-pound senior was leading the Southeastern Conference in receptions (41) six games into the 2007 season before a turf-toe injury slowed his progress. He still finished third among all SEC receivers in catches (73) and second in yards (1,000).
- Josh Briscoe has to be there, too. The 6-3, 183-pound senior caught 56 balls for 557 yards and a team-best six touchdowns last season.
- Ditto for Austin Rogers, a 6-2, 185-pound junior who reeled in 56 catches for 624 yards and four TDs a year ago.
After the Big Three, the competition for rotation spots gets really interesting.
- Quintin Hancock was No. 6 on the receiving chart last fall. The 6-3, 200-pound junior finished 2007 with 16 catches for 165 yards and three TDs.
- No. 7 on last year's receiving chart was Denarius Moore. The 6-1, 185-pound sophomore caught 14 passes (two fewer than Hancock) but averaged 15.1 yards per catch to Hancock's 10.3. Moore also showcased his big-play dimension in last Saturday's Orange & White Game with a 74-yard TD grab on the opening scrimmage snap.
- Ranking No. 8 on last year's receiving chart was Gerald Jones, who might be the most dangerous weapon Tennessee has. Sidelined for the first five games of 2007 by a hamstring pull, the 6-0, 180-pounder rallied down the stretch to finish with 11 receptions for 111 yards. Now a sophomore, he also excels as a direct-snap tailback in the so-called "G-Gun" package.
- Muddling the picture still further is redshirt freshman Ahmad Paige. The 6-1, 180-pounder tossed his hat in the ring by winning recognition as "Most Improved Offensive Player" of spring practice. Paige's 38-yard reception in Scrimmage No. 2 was the longest of the spring by a wideout until Denarius Moore made his 74-yard grab to open the Orange & White Game.
Even discounting O'Neal, Campbell and Maples, Tennessee has seven guys with a legitimate chance to start Game 1. Obviously, they can't all start. They can't all play, either, according to Clawson.
"Probably seven is too many," the coordinator said. "If you're playing seven you're probably not allowing your two or three best to get in the flow of the game. You can't highlight everybody.
"I think in an ideal world you play five, and you make sure that your top two or three – if it's the fourth quarter and it's a three-point game – have got fresh legs."
Mere moments after tabbing five as the ideal number for his wide-receiver rotation, however, Clawson fudged a bit.
"You don't want your playmakers worn down in the fourth quarter because you don't have depth," he said, "so I think ideally we'd like five or six guys to get regular reps."
While Clawson is still deciding how many receivers will play, he seems reasonably certain how much the starting receivers will play.
"Your top guys are getting two-thirds of the reps," he said. "Your other guys can spell them and help you win football games. When the game's on the line you want the right guys in there and you want to make sure they're fresh."
Clawson also seems somewhat conflicted regarding the importance of having a single "go-to" receiver.
"There's certain plays we're going to run where we're going to make a concerted effort to get someone the ball," he said, seconds later noting that, "The more high-level guys you have, the less you have to force-feed one guy."