Rookie receivers

You run the route, you catch the ball. Playing wide receiver at the collegiate level seems so simple that even a freshman could do it.

First-year Tennessee receivers coach Charlie Baggett says the nuances of the position are difficult to learn, however, which is why he isn't counting on mind-boggling contributions from the Vols' four heralded wideout signees - Ted Meline, Matt Milton, Da' Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter - in the season ahead.

"Learning to play receiver at this level is very tough," said Baggett, whose 33-year coaching career includes 11 years at the NFL level. "I use the analogy of using your No. 1 draft pick on a receiver. I used to always tell people in the pros: 'Please don't draft this guy in the first round because it's the toughest position to play, I think.'"

There are exceptions, of course. Julio Jones had a terrific freshman year at Alabama in 2008, as did A.J. Green at Georgia. Each made an immediate and dramatic impact but Baggett says that is rarely the case.

"You've got so much you've got to read on the run - whether a DB is coming up ... whether he's bumping you ... whether the safety is coming over the top or he's staying away ... who you block," the Vol aide said. "Plus, there are so many motions that we do, and there's so much going through their minds that it takes them awhile to know what to do."

Typically, the adjustment from high school to college - like the adjustment from college to pro ball - is a long, drawn-out process.

"The one guy I relate it to is Ted Ginn of the Miami Dolphins," Baggett said of the former Ohio State star who was the ninth pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. "They took him in the first round and thought he was going to be the Next Coming. I knew it was going to take him awhile and he's just now starting to play, and this is his fourth year coming up."

Baggett's pro pupils include probably the most gifted wide receiver in the game's history. Even he needed an adjustment period, however.

"Randy Moss was a phenom who came in and played his rookie year but even he didn't start until about the sixth game," Baggett recalled. "And what he did that first year was just run by people. He didn't know the intricacies of route-running and all of that stuff. He had to learn that. It takes awhile. Receiver is a tough position to come in and play."

Two of Tennessee's touted frosh wideouts - Meline and Milton - are already on campus and participating in spring practice. Obviously, this gives them a head start in terms of the learning curve.

"I think it helps a lot," Baggett said, "but it goes back to ability level. Those two kids coming in (Rogers and Hunter) are exceptional, too. They'll have an opportunity to play but everybody's different. It depends on their skill level and what their ability to learn is."

Based on what he's seen in practice and scrimmages, Baggett believes Meline and Milton are progressing at about the rate he expected.

"I think they're coming along good," he said. "Right now their heads are swimming. There's a lot of information, and it's hard to perform when you're thinking. When you put the motor of the brain to the foot, sometimes it happens slowly. I think that's what's going on with them right now.

"I'm very impressed. I think they have an opportunity to get better but it's hard on freshmen. It really is. These kids have taken it well. I've been tough on them but I think they'll come along and be all right."


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