An H-back Would Boost Attack

Tennessee's search for a top flight tight end has come to a dead end the last two seasons as the Vols twice lost out as finalists for No. 1 rated Greg Olsen in 2003 and No. 1 rated Zach Miller in 2004.

Finishing behind the leaders isn't unusual at a school better known for tailbacks and wide receivers than tight ends but it's also disappointing in the light of Jason Witten's early departure. After being moved from defensive end to tight end as a true freshman Witten proved a big target is invaluable when it comes to moving the sticks or passing near the goal line.

At 6-5, 265, with 4.55 speed, Witten was able to use his size to shield DBs and his speed to burn linebackers. In addition to being utilized in double teams or going solo against defensive ends, Witten was also placed in the slot, in the backfield and sent in motion.

Witten's transformation into an H-back gave UT coaches and fans a preview of the potential for such a component in the Vols offensive scheme. In turn that led Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders to the door of Chris Brown, who at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, isn't a prototypical tight end but is a classic H-back.

He's right at 6-3 but a lot of guys have 6-5 and 6-6 tight ends," said Eumont. "It depends on the school and who's coaching the tight ends and the offensive coordinator. But I think he's perfect for the H-back position. He's half fullback and half tight end."

That was the role Brown perfected at Jesuit last fall and one he could reprise at Tennessee in 2004.

"He was our H-back," New Orleans Jesuit head coach Vic Eumont stated." He played tight end, he played slot, he split out at a wide receiver some. He played fullback. So in the true sense of the word he is an H-back. Our running back rushed for over 2,800 yards and a lot of that had to do with Chris' blocking."

Brown had proven himself a capable blocker in the role of tight end as a junior but finished the season with only 10 catches for 167 yards.

"He's as fine a tight end blocker as I've ever seen," said Eumont. "We pulled him a lot too as a tight end on our counter plays and again he ran the counter well, too."

Despite Brown's lack of pass catching production, Tennessee coaches recognized his potential and pursued him with vigor from the onset of the recruiting season. As a senior he validated their high opinion with a stellar campaign that included 44 catches for 930 yards and seven touchdowns en route to earning all-metro, all-district and all-state honors.

Suddenly Brown's stock skyrocketed and his ranking among tight ends soared to No. 14 nationally after he entered the season as unranked prospect. Any lingering doubts about Brown evaporated after he caught nine passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns verses Lafayette Carencro High School in the third round of the state playoffs. The week before Brown exhibited his big-play ability with his team down and facing elimination.

"In the second round of the playoffs this past year we were down 40 to 28 and I caught a five-yard pass and broke a couple of tackles and scored a 70-yard touchdown." Brown recalled. "It was a naked bootleg, I broke the first tackle and just outran everybody else."

According to Eumont, Brown seemed to save his best performances for the toughest competition.

"East St. John had a heck of a team with a lot of good players," Eumont explained. "He had a lot of big plays last year. He made the leaping catches, the across-the-field catches, the diving catches. We have a highlight tape I sent up (to Knoxville) that has some unbelievable plays on it. The great thing about him, too, is when you hit the fullback in the flat he's going to come around and just drill the linebacker."

The only occasion that Brown was ever timed in the 40 was when he attended football camp at LSU last spring. He turned in a 4.69 clocking while still 16 years old and he won't turn 18 until late June.

"I'd say he's a 4.6 we don't run the 40s here because we just don't have the time," Eumont said. "He goes right from football to basketball. I'd say looking at him he's a 4.6. He's got good leaping ability, too. I saw him last year when he was a junior, he played against a 6-8 center for Shaw that was a college prospect, and Chris had 17 rebounds that game."

Brown averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds per game as a senior and earned attention from colleges for his solid play on the hardwood. But his future is football at Tennessee after a late run by Florida and Auburn came up short.

"Auburn did what they had to do," said Brown, who never backed off his October commitment despite taking late visits to Florida and Auburn. "They showed me a good time there. In the end, it was Tennessee. It was close but it wasn't really that close. I knew that's where I wanted to go.

"Tennessee was on me in the summer and the early part of my senior season. So that meant a lot to me that they were on me early and they noticed me before everybody else. That's how I based my decision."

It's unclear how soon Brown might make a contribution at Tennessee but he is clearly the most qualified candidate to become UT's first genuine H-back. As such he would offer a counter to the blitzing linebacker. As a hot receiver able to release quickly, he could become an inexperienced quarterback's best friend while adding the element of lead blocker to a one-back formation. He would be a versatile performer who could be deployed at the point of attack from anywhere on field.

There's no question that an H-back would answer a lot of the problems that plagued UT's offense last year. The only question: Can Chris Brown be that H-back this fall? Editor's Note: In our next installment we'll look at the fullback position and the promising signee who could fill it.


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