Turning the Paige ... loose

When opposing defenders crowd the line of scrimmage to stop the run, the offensive team can respond in one of two ways:

(A) Make 'em pay with a long pass

(B) Lose the game

Tennessee didn't complete a lot of long passes in 2007, which is why the Vols managed just 37 rushing yards in a 59-20 loss at Florida, 94 rushing yards in a 21-14 SEC Championship Game loss to LSU and 103 rushing yards in a 41-17 loss at Alabama.

If you can't make the opposing safeties back up, you're toast. Tennessee receivers caught just two passes of more than 40 yards last fall – both by Lucas Taylor – which is why the Vols desperately need to locate a wideout who can stretch the field vertically in 2008.

After watching and waiting in 2007, Ahmad Paige just might be the guy.

"I'm probably the fastest receiver we have, so my speed and agility is a big thing," he says. "Having that vertical (threat) opens up things for Arian Foster and different guys."

Paige is a vertical threat, all right. The 6-1, 180-pounder from Monroe, La., averaged a mind-boggling 27 yards per catch as a high school junior and 21 as a senior. You don't post those kinds of numbers on raw speed alone. A receiver needs other skills in order to be a bona-fide deep threat.

"Knowing where you are on the field and what kind of defense you're getting," Paige says. "Being able to read the defense and knowing how to pick your places."

Still, speed is a huge plus when you're trying to discourage opposing safeties from crowding the line of scrimmage. As Paige puts it: "If you have a lot of speed and they respect that, it's easier for you to come out of that (deep route) for comebacks, digs and things like that.

"Everything opens up when you've got that No. 1 thing."

Although he was a touted prep prospect who played in the U.S. Army All-America Game, Paige redshirted as a first-year Vol in 2007. Going from celebrity to obscurity in one year was understandably difficult.

"It was hard," he recalls. "It was more of a pride thing. It was based on what I did and didn't do, so I just had some things to work on and get better."

One thing Paige "didn't do" was block well enough to qualify for a spot in Tennessee's receiver rotation. He has since shored up that weakness.

"Blocking has nothing to do with athletic ability," he says. "It's mostly mental and wanting to do it. Even if you're not having your best day running routes or catching the ball, you can always block."

Although Paige is battling to overtake six Vol wideouts who earned playing time last fall, he thinks the arrival of first-year receivers coach Latrell Scott offsets his inexperience a bit.

"With a new coach it's a little different because everybody has a clean slate," he says. "Everybody's on an even plane, so you have a chance to show your weapons and what you bring to the table."

What Ahmad Paige brings to the table is the speed to be a vertical threat. So, can he and his teammates make opponents who crowd the line of scrimmage pay in '08?

"Oh, yeah," he says. "It's definitely there for us. It's just a matter of us doing it."

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