Insults spur Vols' Tony Brown

Tony Brown has heard the phrase ''Weakest Link'' so often the past few months that he must've thought he was a contestant on the popular TV quiz show.

Instead, he was hearing the phrase applied to the Tennessee football team's receiver corps, of which he is a member. Such insults were routinely directed at Vol wideouts by fans and media types as poorly run routes and dropped passes mounted. While the harsh words still sting a bit, they also provide some incentive.

''It's tremendous motivation,'' Brown said. ''If you own a paper, you can say what you want to say. They say we were the weak link of the team last year but we were a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. It was the first year a bunch of us were playing. So, as a whole, we felt like we learned a lot from last year.''

Much of the criticism leveled at last year's receivers stemmed from reports that many of them skipped early summer workouts last June. Although the workouts were termed ''voluntary,'' players at other positions showed up. Brown concedes that it's important for the wideouts to devote all the time they can to getting better.

''You've got to refine yourself,'' he said. ''You've got to be in the weight room all the time, running routes all the time. There's always somebody right there that can take your spot.''

The competition at receiver got a little tougher recently, when head man Phillip Fulmer decided to switch tailback Derrick Tinsley and safety Mark Jones to wideout. The competition will be even stiffer in August, when touted prep All-Americans Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith join the mix.

''I met all of them on their visits, had them up to my house,'' Brown said. ''They called me up afterward, asking questions. We watched film together, and I showed them some things they need to work on. As a whole, they fell into it.''

Not surprisingly, the rookie receivers had a lot of questions. When asked what the most common question was, Brown smiled.

''How's the life outside of football around here?'' he recalled. ''I told them this is a fan-based town; everything drives off this football team. If you come in here and contribute well, everybody will like you.''

And, as the wideouts discovered last fall, if you play poorly, people INSULT you. Still, Vol fans are a forgiving lot. Brown expects them to be as supportive as ever next fall.

''They'll be here,'' Brown said. ''Neyland Stadium will sell out, as always. As a whole, we just need to show that we can develop into a better team than we were last year.''

Finally, asked what the Vols have to play for this year, Brown answered without hesitation.

''Pride.''


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