Zeros to heroes

This time last year most folks were talking about how bad Tennessee's receiving corps was going to be in 2007. Twelve months later, those same folks are talking about how GOOD it's going to be in 2008.

The irony is not lost on Josh Briscoe. He's one of the reasons a receiver group that was roasted in preseason of '07 is being toasted in preseason of '08.

The premature departure of superstar receiver Robert Meachem to the NFL left the 2007 Vols without a big-play receiver. The additional loss of seniors Jayson Swain and Bret Smith left the Vols without even a proven little-play receiver.

After listening to months of preseason grumbling about how the '08 receiving corps was going to be the team's weak link, Tennessee's wideouts silenced most of their critics by posting some quality numbers last fall. Lucas Taylor caught 73 passes for 1,000 yards. Austin Rogers added 56 catches for 624 yards and Briscoe 56 for 557.

All three are back for another season, which is why most observers believe Tennessee's receiver corps ranks among the NCAA's best heading into the '08 season. Will that kind of praise go to their heads? Not a chance.

"We're not changing anything we're doing," Briscoe said. "We're going to compete just like we did last year."

In spite of the imposing stats Vol wideouts compiled a year ago, some critics remain unimpressed. These folks say the numbers were the result of a pass-happy offense ... not the result of a talent-rich wideout corps. Such comments infuriate and motivate Briscoe.

"People still don't think we can get the job done as a group," he said, his eyes narrowing in an uncharacteristic frown. "What we're doing now is taking the challenge upon ourselves again to show everybody that we're not the weakest link and that we are capable of making plays. We're going out and leave it all on the field."

In addition to Taylor, Rogers and Briscoe, Tennessee returns junior Quintin Hancock and a pair of talented sophomores, Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore. Also back are three redshirt freshman who have shown potential in scrimmages – Ahmad Paige, Todd Campbell and Tyler Maples.

"We have our three starters back and we have a great group of sophomores behind us," Briscoe noted, "so we're ready to go out and show that we can compete with anybody."

If the wideouts can compete with the defensive backs they face in practice everyday, they probably CAN compete with anybody. Tennessee's secondary projects to be the SEC's finest, led by All-America candidates Eric Berry and Demetrice Morley at safety.

"Having Demetrice back helps out a lot," Briscoe said. "He's a great athlete. In him and EB (Berry), I believe we have the two best safeties in the country. Those two are going to be all over the field. Going against them guys every day is going to make our receiving corps better."

Briscoe and his fellow receivers have spent a lot of time this summer facing Morley and Berry in seven-on-seven workouts. Since these skeleton drills feature no offensive or defensive linemen, every play is a pass play. That has given Briscoe & Company ample opportunity to hone their route-running and pass-catching skills.

"In seven on seven the defense really doesn't have a run threat, so they're dropping off the ball (and into coverage)," he said. "It makes us (WRs) be more disciplined and more sound in reading coverages and stuff."


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