Archive for the 'Lucas Taylor' Category

Tennessee Volunteer 2006 unit preview: Wide receivers

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Tennessee fans have been expecting great things from the receiving corps, and a return to the status of the school as “Wide Receiver U,” since at least 2003, when the Vols landed a trio of highly touted receivers. Robert Meachem brought his lofty 5-star status to campus, and Bret Smith and Jayson Swain were hauling four stars a piece.


Robert Meachem

Each was the prototypical receiver: tall (6-3, 6-3, and 6-1, respectively), fast (4.4, 4.5, and 4.5, respectively), and chiseled. I, like most fans I’m sure, am haunted by the whispery voice of Bob Davie, who during the 2005 LSU game made the same exclamation every time a receiver would touch the ball, regardless of whether they caught it or not: “This group of receivers for Tennessee is one of the most talented in the country!”

Well, maybe, if talent was measured in inches, body fat percentages, and 40 times. But when it came to actually getting open, catching the ball, and making big plays, most Vol fans will tell you that the receivers have not yet lived up to their potential. Take, for instance, The Season of Which We Do Not Speak: In 2005, Meachem led all receivers with 29 catches for 383 yards and two touchdowns. Smith had 21 receptions for 223 yards and three TDs. Swain caught the ball 27 times for 380 yards and no scores. The trio have combined for a total of 15 touchdowns over the past three years. Contrast that with, say, South Carolina’s Sydney Rice, who caught 58 passes for 952 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman just last year.

Okay, so the numbers are not exactly what we’d hoped for. So what’s the problem?

Was it the dreaded quarterback rotation? Receiver C.J. Fayton said as much after graduating last year. Or was it the too-deep receiver rotation? The idea was that if they rotated eight or nine guys throughout the games, they’d tire out the defensive backs. Didn’t happen. Maybe it was the position coach, who was canned after the last nail in the coffin of the 2005 season was hammered flush to the wood.

Those three potential factors have been eliminated. Gone (hopefully!) is the indecision about the starting QB. Ainge is our guy. Gone is the 85-deep receiver rotation, which has been replaced with a five-deep unit. Gone is former position coach Pat Washington. Coach Trooper Taylor, who had coached up an under-achieving stable of running backs over the past couple of seasons, has been reassigned to the receiving unit, and he aims to repeat the feat with his new group of guys.


Coach Trooper Taylor

Taylor went to work right away, whittling the rotation down to just a handful of guys who will get the bulk of the snaps. Up-downs followed all dropped passes. Receivers had to catch 100 projectiles per day over the summer, whether they were footballs, tennis balls, or . . . bricks. They were actually catching bricks, which, I guess, would teach you to catch with your hands and not drop what was thrown to you.


If you can catch a brick, you can catch anything.

Anyway, they’ve also been digging batteries and coins out of buckets full of rice to improve grip strength, and they’re focusing on being aggressive on downfield blocks.

Taylor’s got them hopping, and word is that they’re starting to make plays in the scrimmages. The last scrimmage featured several big plays – 37, 30, 37, 39, 65 and 24 yards – an almost astounding feet considering the unit only had two plays of 40 or more yards during the Season of Which We Do Not Speak. Meachem apparently caught a bullet (I believe that’s an analogy, but you can’t really be sure, now can you?) from Ainge for a touchdown at last Saturday’s scrimmage. Swain reportedly looks leaner and quicker and is making strong play after strong play.

Meachem, Smith, and Swain appear to have the starting spots locked down. Behind them are sophomores Lucas Taylor, Josh Briscoe, and Austin Rogers. Lucas Taylor appears to be a real playmaker, and Rogers and Briscoe got some playing time last year and appear solid, except that Briscoe had a tough scrimmage last weekend. Don’t count out true freshman Quintin Hancock, who apparently is making some noise at practices and scrimmages.


Quintin Hancock

Tight ends Chris Brown and brothers Brad and Jeff Cottam figure to be utilized a bit more in David Cutcliffe’s offense as receivers than tight ends have been over the last couple of years.

Best-case scenario: One of Meachem, Smith, and Swain goes on a tear and begins to dominate any single person who tries to cover him, which requires defenses to adjust to that receiver’s side thereby softening up the coverage on the other two. Ainge spreads the wealth, and the three starters each finish the season with 1,000 yards, beating the total of their last three seasons combined. The reserves chip in another 100 yards each.

Worst-case scenario: Coach Cutcliffe, in a bold attempt to stretch the field, calls six consecutive deep outs to begin the season, all of which are either dropped, overthrown, or intercepted. On the third offensive series, the corners and safeties realize that they no longer need to cover receivers, and the team puts 11 in the box to stop Arian Foster.

Best guess: Two of the three starters will improve significantly but not dramatically, increasing their output over last year by 50%. The third, probably Smith, will lose his starting position to one of the three reserves, probably Lucas Taylor. 2,800 yards passing for the season among the unit.

Tennessee Volunteer Wide Receivers Lose Their Green Jerseys

Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

The Tennessee Volunteer coaching staff has taken away the receivers green jerseys:

Receivers Chris Hannon, Jayson Swain, Josh Briscoe, Robert Meachem, and Lucas Taylor were all wearing green jerseys at the beginning of Monday’s practice. Within minutes, managers came out with orange jerseys for the players to change into.

For anyone who might not know, green jerseys designate a player as someone who should not be tackled during practice for safety reasons. Might this explain the receivers’ difficulty in making plays in games? If they’ve been wearing green for practice all season, they haven’t had a lot of practice being physical.

Cataloguing the Tennessee Volunteer Offensive Errors Versus Georgia

Tuesday, October 11th, 2005

Here’s a breakdown of the Tennessee Volunteers’ offensive struggles against the Georgia Bulldogs last Saturday:

  • Vols’ First Possession. Tennessee’s first play from scrimmage was a 33-yard completion to Bret Smith. Chalk one up for a big play by the receiving corps. On the next play, however, Aaron Sears false starts, and the Vols are suddenly looking at 1st and 15. First and second downs net one yard, and a third down completion to Meachem goes for 11, generally good enough to get another set of downs, but not if you need 15 yards. Punt.
  • Vols’ Second Possession. One of the rare, no-penalty drives, this possession began with another big play by a receiver, a completion Chris Hannon for 25 yards. The drive stalled out after a nine-yard completion to Meachem.
  • Vols’ Third Possession. After Georgia scored a touchdown (with UT contributing ten yards on two penalties), the Vols returned the kickoff for only 12 yards and was penalized another 6. Starting on the 6 yard line, Tennessee did get one first down on a nice 15-yard run by Riggs, but on the next play, a communication error between Rick Clausen and Gerald Riggs resulted in a five-yard loss, so they were looking at 2nd and 15. On a no-gain second down, the Vols’ offense (Aaron Sears again) got a facemask penalty that Georgia declined. On 3rd down, they got 13, again generally enough for a new set of downs, but not if you need 15.
  • Vols’ Fourth Possession. Georgia downs its punt at the Tennessee 2. The Vols play it safe and punt after gaining only one yard on three tries.
  • Vols’ Fifth Possession. This possession was the high-water mark for the Vols’ offense, but ended with no points. Starting at the 26, Riggs ripped off runs of 8 yards, 9 yards, 1 yard, and 3 yards before Clausen made two consecutive completions of 23 yards and 11 yards (more big plays by receivers). Riggs then rushed for another 4 yards, and the Vols were threatening at Georgia’s 15. Notice no penalties or mental errors to this point. Alas, Clausen overthrew Bret Smith in the end zone and on the next play threw an interception.
  • Vols’ Sixth Possession. Lucas Taylor caught Georgia’s punt at the 11 and ran to the 14, but Tennessee was penalized 6 yards and had to start on the 8 yard line. Still, they stayed ahead on downs, completing passes of 20 yards and eight yards, and drove down to Georgia’s 38 yard line. But then Riggs and the right tackle both give Georgia’s defensive end a straight path to Clausen’s blind side, and Clausen fumbles when he’s hit. A Volunteer offensive lineman falls on the ball, but the referee simply stares at the player cradling the ball on the ground until a Georgia player strips the ball from him, at which time the ref blows the whistle. Georgia converts the comedy of errors into three points.
  • Vols’ Seventh Possession. Taylor returns the kickoff to the 26, a tie for the Vols’ best starting position of the game. There were no penalties or errors, but they go three and out.
  • Vols’ Eighth Possession. Taylor returns the kickoff to the 26, but Tennessee was penalized 19 yards, so they started at the 7. Again, the receivers make a big play, this time a 28-yarder to Jayson Swain, who simply stole the ball from the defender. They make another first down after that before getting two 5-yard penalties. Yet they overcome those and make another first down with an 18-yard completion to Swain. They then get to 3rd and 1 only to receive a 15-yard penalty. They can’t convert on 3rd and 16, and they punt.
  • Vols’ Ninth Possession. Jonathan Wade actually ran his interception on the preceding play in for a touchdown, but the officials ruled him down at the one-yard line. Hey! Good field position! Clausen snuck it in on the first play.
  • Vols’ Tenth Possession. Thanks to a forced fumble by Jesse Mahelona recovered by Inky Johnson, the Vols got the ball back on their own 27 yard line. Two mistakes in a row for the Dawgs and the momentum seems to be turning. Clausen throws a 16-yard strike to freshman Josh Briscoe on 3rd and 7, but Briscoe is stripped, and Georgia recovers.
  • Vols’ Eleventh Possession. The Vols’ defense held, but Georgia’s punter pinned Tennessee back on the one yard line. Tennessee could only muster eight yards before punting to Georgia, who ran it back for a touchdown.
  • Vols’ Twelfth Possession. The game was essentially over at that point. The Vols made one first down and actually got ahead on downs, having a 2nd and five on the Tennessee 40 yard line when Clausen had to fall on a bad snap. That made it 3rd and ten, and they couldn’t convert.
  • Vols’ Thirteenth Possession. The last Vol drive doesn’t really count, but they had no penalties or mistakes, and actually made a few big plays, including a 24-yard touchdown completion to Meachem as time ran out.

So the Volunteer offense had 12 meaningful possessions. It started almost half of those possession inside their own ten yard line, two of them inside their own five. Three times, the poor field position was directly attributable to Volunteer penalties.

On 4 of their drives, the Vols got behind on downs, either because of penalties or other mental errors.

Their good drives ended in turnovers.

Coach Fulmer’s assessment (subscription required) appears to be on target:

“We had 63 plays in the game Saturday, and 54 of them were outstanding, well-executed plays,” Fulmer said.

“We had 12 mistakes by different people that ended up costing you down and distance, field position or points.”

Ugh.

But still, if — IF — the Vols can cure their offensive woes, they still have a lot to play for, even after losing to two SEC East rivals.

They’re merely mostly dead.