Tight Ends

It has been many moons since any tight end at Tennessee has gotten the kind of hype that Jason Witten has received since his performance against Michigan in the 2002 Florida Citrus Bowl. Witten is one of many reasons for Vol fans to be optimistic about championship hopes in the coming year.

It has been many moons since any tight end at Tennessee has gotten the kind of hype that Jason Witten has received since his performance against Michigan in the 2002 Florida Citrus Bowl. Witten is one of many reasons for Vol fans to be optimistic about championship hopes in the coming year.

Witten stands 6 foot 6 and weighs in at an impressive 262 pounds. His 4.6 40 speed made him a constant threat in 2001 and he made his ability known nationally against the Wolverines on January 1. During that game he had 125 yards receiving and one touchdown. He led all receivers for yards that day. That is very eye-opening considering there was a first round NFL receiver( Donte Stallworth ), a second round NFL receiver( Marquise Walker ) and a potential first rounder next year in Kelley Washington on the field that day. The bulk of Witten's yardage came on a 64-yard drag route where he basically smoked Michigan DBs to the endzone.

With Jason leaving that great day etched in Vol fans' memories, he will have high expectations to live up to in 2002. Witten realizes that he will have to help carry the load this year if the Vols are to make a run at an SEC championship and possibly the national crown. "Me, Kelley, Casey, we all have to help these younger guys get better," Witten said. "A lot of us have been in the wars and understand, but there are 49 sophs and freshmen that have not seen that kind of action so it is up to us to help them along."

Witten does have one bad memory he wants to erase this year. "The one game I am really anxious to redeem myself for is the Florida game. A tipped pass off me gets intercepted and I fumble the ball away. Those are mistakes that could have cost our team everything. I was lucky and didn't have to deal with a loss after that, but I still feel that sting badly." When the Gators roll into Knoxville on the 21st of September, Mr. Witten will be ready to redeem himself for one bad memory that haunts what otherwise was a super sophmore season.

While the No. 1 job is obviously taken, there is still a desperate need for another tight end to step up and be a good blocker in Tennessee's two-tight end set. Going into spring practice Sudan Ellington was moved to tight end to help with blocking assignments. Coaches were hoping with Ellington's move and incoming freshman Aaron Kirkland, that one of the two would emerge as the man for the job. Their plans didn't happen just as they would have liked. Ellington didn't seem to have the quickness to play the position and has, within the last week, been moved to fullback. Kirkland showed up for fall drills weighing in at 255 pounds and seemed slightly undersized for the position. Kirkland has done very well catching the ball, he just needs some time in the weight room to maximize his muscle capacity. With those two road bumps popping up, Coach Fulmer decided to move offensive lineman Victor McClure out to tight end.

"Victor gives us a pure blocker on the edge,"Coach Fulmer said. "Jason will probably be the guy that catches most of the passes, but we desperately needed one more guy and we feel Victor can give us the help we need right now." McClure surprised some of his defensive teammates by catching a pass in the Monday, August 19 practice, McClure's first at his new position. After blocking most of the night, he broke off the line and was open for a six-yard reception. His former o-line teammates were yelling and jumping up and down for McClure. Now keep in mind he may not catch 50-60 passes like Witten will have the chance to do, but if other defenses over look him, don't be surprised if McClure comes up big at some point this season.

Aaron Kirkland came to Tennessee as the man that would take over when 'Hittin' Witten headed off to the NFL, whenever that should happen to be. Kirkland's catching skills have not disappointed since day 1. He has had numerous problems getting good blocking leverage on his teammates in team drills. This may have been the one thing that prompted the switch for McClure. Vols coaches remain very optimistic about Kirkland, he just seems to need some time to get in the groove of "Big-Time SEC football." Coaches brought Aaron in as their future tight end.

Tennessee despite not having a clear second tight end, is in as good a shape at tight end as they have been in the Fulmer era. Witten looks to be quarterback Casey Clausen's favorite target since preparation began for the coming year. If that holds to be true, Witten can be electric in his junior season. 2002 will be a very exciting year to keep an eye on the big men that will be coming off the end of the offensive line.


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