'Didn't come here to be a blocker'

After catching 43 passes for 900 yards as a high school senior, he envisioned playing a similar role at the collegiate level. When University of Tennessee recruiters promised as much, he signed on the dotted line and became a Vol.

Three years later, though, tight end Chris Brown is still waiting for UT to keep its promise. He caught just six balls as a freshman in 2004 and 14 as a sophomore in 2005. Why so few receptions? He has no idea.

"The past couple of years we (tight ends) have been open; we just haven't gotten the ball," Brown says. "Whether it was the quarterback, the coaches, the pressure – whatever it was – we just haven't gotten the ball."

That's supposed to change this year. The tight end reportedly will be an integral part of the passing game. Of course, UT fans have heard this before. I call it "The Annual Tight End Pledge." Based on his early impressions of new offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, however, Brown thinks the tight end will be more of a receiving threat this fall.

"People are going to be surprised," he says. "Coach Cutcliffe demands getting the ball to someone who's open. He's not prejudiced to one player. He wants playmakers.

"I noticed from the get-go that he wanted to get us the ball. He understands that we can make plays. He wants us to stretch the field, get open and make plays."

Brown and fellow tight end Brad Cottam caught dozens of passes last spring. Perhaps that was a harbinger of things to come.

"We got a lot of balls in the spring," Brown concedes. "We worked hard and built our confidence with the quarterbacks. I think that's all it was … building our confidence with the quarterbacks. They need to be confident they can throw to us when they're in trouble. They don't have to always look to a receiver."

Brown is a 6-3, 250-pounder who has the speed and receiving skills to be a star. So does Cottam, a 6-8, 260-pounder who failed to catch a pass in 2005. They could be a terrific 1-2 punch if used properly.

"We came here to catch balls, too," Brown says. "I didn't come here to be a blocker. I think all of the coaches know that, and I think they're excited about this season, throwing us the ball a lot more."

In an effort to get Brown more involved in the passing game, Vol coaches plan to use him quite a bit as an H-back this fall. So, how is that different from being a tight end?

"There's not much of a difference," Brown concedes. "The H-back flexes out more than the tight end does, moves around, goes in motion. I like playing H-back because I can get out in space, get on a cornerback or a linebacker and get a mismatch. At tight end you have to work on your releases, block big people. At H-back you can block a little cornerback."


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