Tight end time?

Tennessee's fullbacks rarely catch a pass. They almost never carry the football. Basically, they block and block and block some more. But Vol fullbacks haven't been doing a very good job of that this fall, which is why they soon may achieve a whole new level of obscurity.

Senior starter Cory Anderson has one carry for one yard and two catches for nine yards to date. Junior backup David Holbert has one carry for no gain and zero catches. Still, those numbers would be OK if they were blocking effectively. Through the first four games, neither did. As a result, Tennessee played a lot more two-tight end/one back sets in Game 5 versus Memphis. Chris Brown responded with five catches for 24 yards and Brad Cottam added an 11-yard reception.

Given the success the tight ends had against Memphis and the relative lack of production from UT fullbacks all season, you wonder: Is Phillip Fulmer phasing out his fullbacks?

"Our tight ends and fullbacks are very interchangeable," Tennessee's head coach said. "We're able to get into some different looks (with the tight ends). I think it did help us."

Still, Fulmer isn't ready to write the fullback out of UT's script just yet. That's because watching most of the Memphis game from the sideline apparently taught Anderson and Holbert a lesson. They showed considerably more effort and efficiency once they finally got some action.

"When the fullbacks did get in the game, they blocked well," Fulmer said. "The fullbacks hadn't been real productive till (Saturday) but (Saturday) they did real well."

The tight ends did real well, too, which probably means Tennessee will utilize two tight ends and no fullback quite often this Saturday night against Georgia. Based on the success they enjoyed vs. Memphis, the Vols are likely to use some spread formations against the Dawgs, too.

"We've used a lot of shotgun and open sets," Fulmer conceded. "Our strength right now is throwing the football."

As a former offensive lineman and offensive line coach, Fulmer is generally perceived as a run-oriented coach. He insists that is not the case.

"I don't care how we score points," he said. "I just know in this league you've got to score points to win."

Tennessee has scored most of its points to date through the air. The Vols have 13 passing touchdowns, compared to seven rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Erik Ainge has relied heavily on Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain but also has found Bret Smith and the afore-mentioned Brown (12 catches for 94 yards) on occasion.

Fulmer conceded that Ainge is "doing a good job of spreading the ball. He's seeing the field well and using his people around him pretty well right now."

Ainge and his receivers were heavily criticized for their play in 2005. New offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe has Ainge back on track, however, and new receivers coach Trooper Taylor has the wideouts playing far better than they did a year ago.

"I think both of them have done a fantastic job," Fulmer said of Cutcliffe and Taylor. "Also, those guys (Ainge and his receivers) have matured. They understand and they're tough. Sometimes before you play really well you have to go through those tough times."

Asked if he has ever seen anyone improve from one season to the next the way Ainge and his receivers have, Fulmer replied: "I would only say they're playing to the level they were expected to play last year."


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