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Forgive Tennessee assistant Frank Wilson if he starts taking a head count before each practice ... and before each game.

As coach of Vol receivers, Wilson has seen his troop strength rise and fall like the Dow-Jones Industrial average this year. Two of his wideouts (Ahmad Paige, Tyler Maples) transferred following spring practice.

Summer proved even worse than spring, as the top three returning receivers (Austin Rogers, Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore) were injured within a five-day span. Rogers would be out for the season. Jones and Moore would miss action in preseason and in September.

Incredibly, attrition has claimed two more wideouts since the season began. Brandon Warren was dismissed from the team in October and freshman Nu'keese Richardson was cut loose earlier this week.

Tally to date: Four receivers departed, one is out for the year and two more missed considerable practice and game time due to injury.

Has Wilson ever witnessed such attrition at one position?

"I can't say I have," he said, flashing a pained grin. "But this group has shown resilience and character because there were a lot of times where we could've pointed the finger or blamed it on chemistry and continuity … but we didn't."

Continuity has been virtually non-existent this fall. Warren was learning to play receiver after toiling at tight end previously. Richardson and fellow freshmen Marsalis Teague were adjusting to wideout after playing quarterback in high school.

Except for senior Quintin Hancock, Tennessee's receiver corps has consisted primarily of three freshmen (Richardson, Teague, Zach Rogers) and the two injury-plagued juniors (Jones, Moore). With a new offensive scheme and new terminology further complicating matters, quarterback Jonathan Crompton and his wideouts weren't on the same page in September. At times they didn't appear to be in the same book.

After hearing a lot of criticism in the first half of the season, however, Tennessee's receiver corps has redeemed itself in recent weeks. Jones and Moore are making big plays and the youngsters around them are making big strides.

"We stayed the course and continued to work hard and develop as a group," Wilson said. "Those young guys at times had to step up and make plays, and they did. We're still not where we want to be but we're making strides and I think we're headed in the right direction."

Although the defections, injuries and dismissals forced several young wideouts to fill key roles before they were ready, Wilson sees a plus among all of the minuses.

"Those guys are getting invaluable repetitions, and it's helping them speed up their learning curve and do it that much faster," he said. "Indirectly, it's worked in a positive way for them."

Because of the instability at wide receiver, Wilson rarely knows who'll show up for positional meetings from one day to the next. Noting that there has been "a lot of attrition in that room," he added: "We left spring with one group, then got back in fall camp with another group. Then Week 1 (of the season) it was a different group."

Though it all, Wilson has had to become pretty creative in his deployment of Tennessee wideouts. With several playing multiple positions in the receiver rotation, growing pains were inevitable.

"We were moving those guys around, trying to get them to learn how important the detail of it is," Wilson said. "I think we're at the point now where we've got a full understanding of it."

Of all the setbacks Tennessee's receiving corps has incurred this year, the worst for Wilson were the dismissals of Warren and Richardson.

"It's tough, especially in the case with Nu'Keese because we recruited him," Wilson conceded. "But also it's the reality of the business … young men having to be accountable.

"It's somebody's child and you formed that relationship with them, helped foster that and go through that maturation process with them. When you lose 'em, it's tough, but you learn how to move on. And, hopefully, everybody learns a valuable lesson from their mistakes and we get better from it."


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