What Witten accomplished for the Vols in his two seasons as a productive starter is what UT offensive coaches had long contended: If they had a playmaker at tight end they'd use him to make plays in addition to blocks. Witten was also used as an H-back by the Vols as he would frequently lined up in the slot or flexed to a flanker or went into motion.
Unfortunately, there was a paradox UT's staff hadn't predicted because once the Vols finally proved they wouldn't hesitate to pass to the tight end, they couldn't land a tight end that filled the bill as a receiver. UT contended for top tight end talent the last two seasons, getting an official visit in 2002 from No. 1 rated Greg Olsen and an official visit in 2003 from No. 1 rated Zach Miller.
Tennessee is once again in contention for No. 1 this year in DajLeon Farr, 6-5, 242, 4.62, from North Shore High School in Galena Park, Texas, as well as No. 3 Tony Moeaki of Warrenville South High School in Wheaton, Ill. Moeaki, 6-4, 240, 4.70, is a four-star prospect and Farr is the nation's only five-star rated tight end prospect.
Of course, with truly outstanding tight ends being in such short supply there's a long list of high-profile contenders. Farr hasn't began the serious paring process to this point and is looking at LSU, Miami, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Tennessee, Texas, UCLA and USC. He is the cousin of former Bruin gridiron great Mel Farr.
In addition to being a big-play threat, Farr is widely regarded as the nation's best blocking tight end, a trait that is often lacking in high school prospects of his ilk. Naturally, Farr defends his virtues as a receiver who was woefully underused as a weapon at North Shore.
"I'm more than just a blocking tight end," he said. "I can catch the ball and make something out of it too. I do what I gotta do to get the job done. I want to stay on my blocks longer and I'd like to improve my speed so I can get more balls."
Farr didn't get many chances last year, finishing with just seven catches for 166 yards and a touchdown while playing in a ground-oriented offense, but he expects to see more opportunities this season. Scouting reports indicate he has soft hands and is tough to take down after the catch.
Tony Moeaki was more productive as a receiver and may have a higher ceiling. He isn't far from Farr as a blocker either. He played with a cast as a sophomore and was limited to 120 yards in receptions. As a junior he pulled down 23 passes for 405 yards and four TDs. He benches 290 pounds and has a 30-inch vertical leap. He is currently on course to complete qualification with a 2.5 GPA and an ACT score of 19.
"I run good routes and I catch the ball good," Moeaki said. I'm also a good blocker and I'm real versatile. I want to improve my knowledge of the game and work on my strength and quickness.
"Colleges like my two dimensions. I can both block and catch. In last year's playoffs, I played some fullback and schools seem to like that."
The nation's third ranked tight end has paid visits to BYU, USC, UCLA, and Oregon over the summer. He is also went to Iowa's spring game and is considering Penn State, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Tennessee. His brother Larry is a senior at BYU and former offensive linemen for the Cougars, although he no longer plays football. Another brother, Anthony, was a linebacker for BYU from 1990-94.
"I'm looking for offenses that throw the ball a lot to the TE, like Iowa and BYU," he said. "I'd like to decide in September if I can. I'll be looking at depth charts, academics and the overall feel I have for the campus. I expect to take a two year Mormon mission and the schools know this."
Tennessee signed Parade All-America defensive end Jonathan Mapu from Hawaii two years ago, and he's currently serving his two-year mission with the Mormon Church after which he's expected to return to UT to complete his college career.
"I haven't been there (Tennessee) on a visit, yet, but I know they have a lot of tradition there," he said. "They also win a lot of games."
Winning games is a lot easier with a two-dimensional tight end in your offensive arsenal. However, the Vols would have to rate as underdogs for the services of either Farr or Moeaki.
Closer to home is Germantown High School prospect Jeff Cottam, the brother of UT sophomore tight end Brad Cottam, who is considered by some analysts to be a better interior lineman. However his favorites are recruiting him as a tight end.
"My top 4 right now is Tennessee, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and Auburn "My brother plays at Tennessee, and I like the facilities and the stadium. Ole Miss is real close to home, and I like the small town feel. I grew up watching Notre Dame a lot on TV, and I like their football tradition. I think I would have an opportunity to play early at Auburn, and I like their coaches a lot."
As a junior the 6-foot-7, 255-pound Cottam caught 15 passes for 200 yards and four touchdowns. He bench presses a respectable 300 pounds and squats 350. He has turned a 4.75 and is trying to get faster.
"I'm a good blocker and I can get to the open seam," he said. "I'm really aggressive. I want to get my 40 time down to 4.65. I also want to improve my timing on routes."
Tennessee is more likely to land Jeff Cottam to go with brother Brad and develop freshman Chris Brown into an H-back who can complement the Cottam Connection while providing the Vols with flexibility at a key, albeit under appreciated position.