Vols seek new Witten

In 2002 Vol tight end Jason Witten caught 39 passes for 493 yards and five touchdowns. In 2003 and 2004 COMBINED, all of Tennessee's tight ends managed to catch just 10 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns.

Here's a recap:

2003: Victor McClure 1 catch for 11 yards

2004: Chris Brown 6 catches for 74 yards and 1 TD … Brad Cottam 2 catches for 34 yards … Justin Reed 1 catch for 16 yards and 1 TD.

Needless to say, Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer is looking for greater production out of the tight end position this fall.

"We haven't had a tight end really contribute a whole lot for us since Jason Witten left early to go to pro football," Fulmer said recently, "and we're still looking for that guy."

The best candidates to be "that guy" appear to be a pair of sophomores – Brown and Cottam. Brown is a 6-3, 239-pounder with good agility and hands. Cottam is a 6-8, 263-pounder with surprising speed for a man his size.

"Chris Brown did a good job when he came in last year as a true freshman," Fulmer noted. "Brad is a kid that had shoulder problems last year but he's well now and we expect big things from him. He can really run, so hopefully we'll get more out of him."

Reed, originally signed as a punter, has grown into a 6-7, 289-pound senior. He caught a 16-yard pass in Game 2 against Florida last season but disappeared thereafter. More depth comes from fellow senior Jake Finlayson, a non-scholarship player who packs 284 pounds on a 6-5 frame.

"Justin Reed helped some last year and Jake Finlayson helped some," Fulmer noted, "but we're not where we need to be right now at that position."

As a result, Jeff Cottam – Brad's younger brother and a February signee – could see action as a true freshman this fall. Jeff's a 6-7, 260-pounder who, like his sibling, moves well for a big man.

It's unlikely any of Tennessee's tight ends will match Witten's 2002 production this fall. If one of them could just get halfway there – 20 catches for 250 yards – that would be a huge step in the right direction … and maybe enough to get the Vols into the SEC Championship Game.


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