Vols Receiver Meachem Now A Saint

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Not since the days when Carl Pickens (1989-91) and Alvin Harper (1987-90) terrorized opposing defenses had the Volunteers had a player at the receiver position that can change the tide of the game better than Meachem. The unheralded talent made the most of his first opportunity to be a full-time starter at Tennessee and emerged in 2006.

The Booker T. Washington product was a Parade and SuperPrep All-America selection as a senior. He was rated the second-best wide receiver prospect in nation by SuperPrep and earned Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year honors. Meachem was ranked as the best overall prospect in Oklahoma, the nation's third-best receiver and the eighth-ranked player in the Midlands region by Rivals.com. He was the eighth-ranked receiver by Tom Lemming's Prep Football Report and nominated for the Jim Thorpe Award.

As a high school senior, the all-state first-team choice racked up 543 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 531 yards and eight more scores, guiding the team to a 13-1 record and a runner-up finish in the state AAAAA championship. He also played point guard on school's two-time state basketball championship team.

Tennessee won a fierce recruiting battle for Meachem's services, much to the chagrin of the University of Oklahoma, which was hot on the trail of their local star. However, a knee injury in fall camp forced Meachem to spend his 2003 season with the Volunteers on the sideline as a medical hardship after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 16 to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

"Meachem was as far along as any freshman we've had since I've been here that I can remember," head coach Phil Fulmer said. The surgical procedure revealed the tear and the decision was made to repair it and accept the longer recovery period. "That's a good thing in the long run," said Fulmer, "but not in the short run because he will miss the season now. We'll always take the interest of the athlete first. It would be real easy to be selfish and just fix it short term, but Robert has a bright future and repair was the right thing to do as an athlete."

Meachem returned to action in 2004. Despite not starting any of the 13 games he appeared in, Meachem ranked third on the Vols with 25 receptions and led the team with 459 yards and an 18.4-yard average. He also added four touchdowns and was the only player on the team to produce a 100-yard receiving effort in 2004. Perhaps showing Tennessee fans of what a bright future that laid ahead for him, Meachem's first career reception was good for a 35-yard touchdown vs. Nevada-Las Vegas. He also added four tackles on special teams.

Meachem lined up at split end in 2005, starting vs. Alabama-Birmingham and Memphis. Despite only two starts, he led the team with 29 receptions for 383 yards (13.2 avg.) and two touchdowns while playing in 11 contests. He also returned two kickoffs for 41 yards (20.5 avg.).

The 2006 season was Meachem's breakout year. He moved to flanker and earned All-American and All-Southeastern Conference first-team honors. He ranked fourth in the nation with an average of 99.85 yards per game receiving and ranked 24th nationally with 5.46 receptions per game. He led the team with a career-high 71 catches for a school single-season record 1,298 yards (18.3 avg.), including 11 touchdowns. He recorded two solo tackles, gained 16 yards on a kickoff return and 12 yards on a punt return.

In 37 games at Tennessee, Meachem started 15 times. He caught 125 passes and became the sixth player in school history to gain more than 2,000 yards receiving, totaling 2,140 yards (17.1 avg.) with 17 touchdowns. He rushed seven times for three yards, recorded six solo tackles, gained 57 yards on three kickoff returns (19.0 avg.) and returned one punt 12 yards.

ANALYSIS--

Positives:

Rangy athlete with good arm and leg length and a frame that is built for speed … Has a tight abdomen and waist with good calf and thigh thickness … Has great size and initial explosion for this position, showing the flexibility to get in and out of his cuts instantly in attempts to separate … His speed and arm extension are his best qualities, but his leg strength is evident by the way he generates yards after the catch … Shows the change-of-direction agility to go along with his speed to be a breakaway threat with the ball in his hands … Has very good field awareness to settle in the zone's soft spot and can adjust to situations in attempts to make the play … Can out-distance himself from the crowd or press with his strength and quickness … Gets off the snap cleanly and uses his hands with force to prevent from being rerouted … Can threaten the deep secondary immediately, especially vs. off coverage, and has no problems getting a clean release vs. the jam … Has the breakaway speed and loose hips to separate and elude … Physical type with the ability to maintain his stride through his route progression … Hard to knock off his patterns and shows smooth body adjustments to catch the ball in stride … Because of his size, you would expect Meachem to look lanky in his routes, but he has the short pitter-patter steps and burst to look effortless through route progression … Has the balance and feet, along with explosive acceleration and excellent body control out of his cuts to gain valid yardage after the catch … Has the ability to leverage, plant and cut … Very good at staying in stride after the catch and is very effective at making the tough grabs outside the frame, whether the pass is high, low or behind … Gets very good lift and rise going for the jump balls and shows good ball-adjustment skills and balance to make the tough grabs and keep his feet in bounds when working along the sidelines.

Negatives:

Needs to improve his slide in the open zone as he will sometimes get too narrow when accelerating out of transition cuts … You hope he would get more deep-ball opportunities than he has, but he demonstrates excellent hand/eye coordination … Will misjudge the ball occasionally but has the skills to adjust to the ball when working underneath … Showed some inconsistency tracking the ball in flight during the 2006 Georgia game in the first half but rectified it to come up with five big plays in second-half action … Physical blocker when working in-line, but needs to get lower in his pads in attempts to sustain … Demonstrates good effort and a strong hand punch to jolt, but when he gets high in his pads, he can be pushed back into the pocket.

Compares To:

Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals … Meachem is much faster getting into his routes than Boldin, but he is similar to the Cardinals receiver when it comes to gaining valid yardage after the catch and coming up with the key reception in crucial situations … He does a very good job of tracking the deep ball over his shoulder and, like Boldin, he knows how to use his frame to shield defenders from the ball … He is the Vols' best receiving prospect since the Carl Pickens era (1988-91).

INJURY REPORT--

2003: Sat out the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery (Aug. 1616) to repair a torn right knee meniscus … "Meachem was as far along as any freshman we've had since I've been here that I can remember," head coach Phil Fulmer said.

AGILITY TESTS--

Campus: 4.48 in the 40-yard dash … 37½-inch vertical jump … 345-pound bench press.

Combine: 4.42 in the 40-yard dash … 1.53 10-yard dash … 2.54 20-yard dash … 4.31 20-yard shuttle … 11.3 60-yard shuttle … 6.97 three-cone drill … 37½-inch vertical jump … 10-foot-1 broad jump.

HIGH SCHOOL--

Attended Booker T. Washington (Tulsa, Okla.) High School, playing football for head coach Antwain Jimmerson … Parade and SuperPrep All-America selection as a senior … Rated the second-best wide receiver prospect in nation by SuperPrep and earned Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year honors … Ranked as the best overall prospect in Oklahoma, the nation's third-best receiver and the eighth-ranked player in the Midlands region by Rivals.com … Was the eight-ranked receiver by Tom Lemming's Prep Football Report and nominated for the Jim Thorpe Award … As a senior, the all-state first-team choice racked up 543 receiving yards and ten touchdowns and rushed for 531 yards and eight more scores, guiding the team to a 13-1 record and a runner-up finish in the state AAAAA championship … Also played point guard on school's two-time state basketball championship team.

PERSONAL--

Communications major … Born Robert Emery Meachem on Sept. 28, 1984 … Resides in Tulsa, Okla.

Story Courtesy: cbs.sportsline.com


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