Tight ends could be key vs. UK

Tennessee is expected to play most of today's regular-season finale against Kentucky with two tight ends and no fullback in the lineup. That has been the Vols' mode of operation for the last half of the season.

The reason couldn't be simpler: Poor play by the fullbacks and solid play by the tight ends led offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe to shift gears at midseason, decreasing the former's role and increasing the latter's role.

On the face of it, the change seems minor. After all, Tennessee's fullbacks are primarily blockers and Tennessee's tight ends are primarily blockers. Still, the physical demands of the two positions are not the same.

Fullbacks Cory Anderson (6-3, 260) and David Holbert (6-1. 25) are fireplug types with a low center of gravity. Conversely, the guy who has replaced them in the starting lineup, No. 2 tight end Brad Cottam, is a rangy 6-8, 260-pounder. Obviously, Cottam is a much more inviting target in the passing game.

"The second tight end is basically playing what we consider our fullback position," Cutcliffe said. "It gives us some flexibility to put two tight ends on the line. Those guys are more intricately involved in route running, so it has given us a boost in the passing game."

Cutcliffe hoped replacing the fullback with an extra tight end would upgrade Tennessee's passing game without detracting from the run blocking and the pass protection. He believes goal that has been accomplished. Although Cottam and No. 1 tight end Chris Brown lack the heft of Anderson and Holbert, they are doing a reasonably good job when asked to run block and/or pass protect from the backfield.

"They've grown from a protection standpoint," Cutcliffe said, adding that using two tight ends makes the Vols more versatile because it "allows us to be in a personnel grouping where the defense is not quite sure how we're going to line up from snap to snap."

Although Anderson and Holbert have just one carry each this fall, they at least represent mild running threats. Brown and Cottam don't. Still, Cutcliffe says there is a possibility that one of the tight ends could get a carry from scrimmage sometime.

"That could happen," the coordinator said. "It's in the system. They better show me they can run with it pretty good before we get to that. But it's in the system."

Since Kentucky ranks dead last nationally in total defense, perhaps today will be the day Brown or Cottam gets his first collegiate carry. Probably not, though. Cutcliffe suggests the Vols need to master their basic plays before they start handing the ball to tight ends ... even against a defense as porous as Kentucky's.

"I don't think we're at the stage where we can overlook anyone," the Vol aide said. "We've had enough struggles ourselves. We're certainly a work in progress."

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