Tough question:

Watching heralded Tennessee freshmen Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith during preseason workouts in August of 2003, you knew they would become an exceptional receiving trio.

Watching the 2010 freshman trio of Da' Rick Rogers, Justin Hunter and Matt Milton, you have to believe they will be even better.

At 6-3 and 215 pounds, Rogers is a virtual clone of Meachem, who caught 125 passes in three seasons at UT, then joined the New Orleans Saints as a first-round draft pick in 2007. Like Meachem, Rogers arrived on The Hill with the physical maturity of a college senior.

Hunter, 6-4 and 183 pounds, is a spindly guy who is physically similar to Simth, who was listed as 6-3 and 175 when he arrived on campus. Smith caught 83 passes for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns during his Vol career. Hunter, an Olympic-caliber high jumper, might double those totals.

Milton, at 6-5 and 220, is a taller version of Swain, who was listed as 6-2 and 205 when he enrolled at Tennessee. Milton is more athletic but isn't as sure-handed as Swain, who caught 126 passes in four years with the Vols.

Although Rogers, Hunter and Milton have bright futures, historical precedent suggests they won't contribute much in 2010. Even Tennessee's all-time great receivers accomplished very little as freshmen. Here's a brief history lesson:

- Joey Kent, No. 1 on UT's all-time receiving list, redshirted as a freshman in 1992 and caught just 10 balls in '93.

- Marcus Nash, No. 2 on the list, caught five balls in '94.

- Cedrick Wilson, No. 3 on the list, caught seven balls in '97.

- Peerless Price, No. 4 on the list, caught six balls in '95.

- Thomas Woods, No. 7 on the list, redshirted in '85 and caught six balls in '86.

- Carl Pickens, arguably the most gifted receiver in UT history, redshirted in '88 and caught just seven balls in '89.

Clearly, great talent isn't enough to make great impact as a freshman receiver. You also need to be a quick study, capable of learning and understanding a college playbook.

So, how are Rogers, Hunter and Milton doing in that regard?

"They're doing a real nice job of that," Vol offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said this week. "I haven't had any issues with that. They bust (an assignment) once in awhile but nothing more than most freshmen do. I think you have to temper it a little bit. They're having a lot thrown on their plate, so it slows them down physically. Mentally, they're trying to hang in there."

Tennessee's first-team receivers are seniors Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore, two returning starters from 2009. When those proven veterans take a breather and the unproven rookies join the lineup you'd expect the offensive package to change radically.

"Not much," Chaney said. "We're going to do whatever the players can do. Obviously, Gerald and Denarius know a little more than the rookies do right now, so it will be a little bit more open. But, for the most part, the plays won't change."

The coordinator hasn't expected an awful lot of the three rookie receivers to date. That will change when the Vols hold their third preseason scrimmage on Saturday.

"It'll be interesting," Chaney said. "Saturday will be a big day for us. Now you're not doing installations; you're doing the same plays over and over again.

"They'll be playing a little faster, and I hope to see a little more out of 'em."


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