Tennessee has seldom used the tight end as a weapon. You can cite a few examples over the past 25 years. Jason Witten caught 39 passes in 2002 and 67 over a two-year span, but even then, he was underutilized. He caught 87 balls his second year in the NFL and has 188 catches in three season with the Dallas Cowboys.
Since 1980, no other tight end comes close to Witten's totals at Tennessee. In fact, Witten is the only UT tight end to lead the team in receptions since Reggie Harper in 1978. Harper caught 61 in back-to-back seasons, a record for UT tight ends.
Chris Brown won't break that record, but he'd like to break into the conversation when it comes to weapons on offense. Brown caught 14 passes last season, six as a true freshman. He'd like to shatter his career total of 20 this season. He thinks he's got a shot.
``Yes sir, I think the tight ends will be much more involved, as you can tell from the spring game,'' Brown said. ``We had 12, 14 catches collectively. We have a lot more confidence.''
Cutcliffe is moving the tight ends around, using them on either side of the line and at H-back and in motion, all in an effort to confuse the defense.
``I love moving around,'' Brown said. ``It makes the defense change when you go in motion. We can get mismatches against other defenders that we feel we can take advantage of.''
By using the tight end in the passing game, Brown thinks it will make Tennessee's offense more difficult to defend.
``I think it's going to make the offense a lot more complex,'' Brown said. ``The last couple of years, the tight ends haven't been involved at all. I'm expecting to have a pretty big year this year.
``And if defenses start worrying about me, the receivers are going to get open. If they start worrying about the receivers, we're going to pop a long run. I just think it (throwing to the tight end) will make our offense a lot more versatile.''
For an offense that averaged 18.6 points and failed to score more than 30 points in any game, versatility is welcome.
``We're definitely going to surprise some people,'' Brown said. ``In the opening game, we're going to do a lot of things. We're going to be creative.''
Of course, creativity doesn't always guarantee success, just as being conservative doesn't always guarantee failure. In 1998, the Vols ran a conservative offense and the starting tight end didn't catch a pass, but that didn't stop Tennessee from winning the national championship.
Brown can't imagine a catchless season. He's much too talented to be ignored. One UT assistant said he's never seen a better route-running tight end than Brown.
``It came natural at the beginning,'' Brown said. ``In high school, you can do a lot of things. But once you get in college, you have to learn how to beat people because you're not going to always be faster.
``It takes putting in a lot of work and learning routes and watching other people that have made it in the NFL and college.''
One thing Brown has learned is more isn't always better. Brown gained more than 20 pounds after his freshman season, bulking up to 265.
``The whole weight-gain thing was to help me as a blocker,'' Brown said. ``It was an experiment to see if I could do it. It didn't work out. I didn't feel comfortable and they said I didn't look comfortable. So I lost weight and got back down to what I am now and I'm ready to go. I feel a lot faster.''
Brown is down to 243. Will the reduced weight hurt Brown as a blocker?
``I've been an effective blocker my whole time here,'' Brown said. ``My freshman year, I weighed 235 and I played a lot of ball. I think it's a whole attitude thing. If you're blocking somebody that's 300 pounds, if you believe you can get it done, you can.''
And if you believe you can catch the ball, you will – even at tight end in Tennessee's system.