October 16, 2008

Paige waiting to turn for Vols

Lately, the end of practice invariably is the same for Tennessee freshman wide receiver Ahmad Paige: with Paige running routes, working on consistency and the nuances of being an SEC-ready pass-catcher for the Volunteers' struggling offense.

"We're trying to get better as a team, and everybody's got to do their part," said the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder speedster from Monroe, La. "I'm trying to get better, and I'm trying to work at it. That's all the coaches are trying to say: you can help us. And I'm staying after and doing all the little work that I can."

According to several UT coaches, Paige's extra work is yielding the desired results.

"I think Ahmad Paige is one of those guys that's getting really close," said head coach Phillip Fulmer. "He might be our fastest receiver. He hasn't been very consistent or physical but you can see in the last two or three weeks that that's really coming on."

Added offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, "He's getting better. He's improving. We have a lot of receivers. And Ahmad's a guy because of his ability to run we would like to get on the field. It's just developing him as complete receiver. The question is, every time you put somebody on, who do you take off?"

Paige's extra work is accelerating the time table for UT's coaches to make that decision. Though the lithe Paige wants to add weight to his frame to aid his ability to beat press coverage, he possesses the raw speed that coaches are fond of saying "can't be taught." And for his part, the former U.S. Army All-American Bowl participant knows the burden rests on his ability to prove himself daily.

"Just be more consistent. That's my biggest thing. Because one day I do it extremely well, and one day I do it horribly," said the personable wideout who stayed well after practice both Sunday and Wednesday to gain extra reps. "It's just my job to stay consistent and that's what the coaches want me to do.

"I'm real close, real close (to helping in games). Everything they've asked of me, I've done. They've accepted that, and hopefully in the next couple of games I'll get my chance. That's all I ask."

With opposing defenses daring the Vols' struggling offense to beat them with downfield passing, Paige could be emerge alongside fellow 2007 signee Denarius Moore to breathe life, along with cool-hand quarterback Nick Stephens, into Tennessee's aerial attack.

"Ahmad's developing. Obviously he's very talented and was highly recruited coming out of high school. The transition has been a tough process for him," wide receivers coach Latrell Scott, quickly carving a niche as both a respected position coach and stellar recruiter, said. "With Denarius going, he obviously would be a great complement to him. And as we have a more vertical passing attack, Ahmad has the chance to be a big part of that.

"It's just about getting Ahmad to perform with great consistency and a quiet confidence and swagger."

Leaning on his relationship with Scott, Paige heeds his coach's advice and waits for a chance to help the Vols right a season that rests on the brink following a 2-4 start.

"(Scott) is just saying, 'Stay positive. Everybody's going to have to contribute and do their part.' And that's what I'm trying to do," said Paige, who chose the Vols over Southern Cal among other schools. "Any little thing extra that helps and is going to help this team. So, I just need to go out there and do what I need to do.

"Everybody knows what this program is about, and we know what we can do. It's just kind of a rough time right now. It's not like we're less talented than anybody. We're just making stupid mistakes and things like we that. We know we're going to get back at it."

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