Witten needs help, too

Tennessee football fans recognize the need for another wideout to emerge and take the pressure off of star receiver Kelley Washington ... but they're overlooking one equally important point. The emergence of another wideout will work wonders for tight end Jason Witten, as well.

You may recall that Witten accomplished very little in the first four games of 2001, catching nine balls for a mere 45 yards. It wasn't until Game 5 at Alabama -- when Donte' Stallworth returned from a fractured wrist to provide a complement for Kelley Washington -- that Witten emerged as a receiving threat.

With both Stallworth and Washington spreading the field vertically, Witten broke loose that day in Tuscaloosa, catching seven balls for 91 yards. He went on to enjoy a fine season, capping it with a six-catch, 125-yard effort in the Citrus Bowl game against Michigan.

So, finding a quality wideout to fill Stallworth's role this fall will help the 6-6, 265-pound Witten just as much as it will help Washington.

''Last year, when teams would double-team Donte' and Kelley -- covering them with a cornerback, plus a safety over the top -- Jason would have a hole in there that was wide open,'' quarterback Casey Clausen recalled recently. ''That's kind of what we're hoping for this year -- somebody to step forward and take the position opposite Kelley, so teams who want to double-cover people outside will leave Jason wide open in the middle.''

Clausen vividly remembers how the passing game struggled early last season ... desperately needing Stallworth and Washington to provide a 1-2 punch on the outside and Witten to emerge as an inside receiver. When those things happened, the Vols became almost unstoppable.

''The first part of the year was kind of difficult,'' Clausen recalled. ''Donte' got hurt, Eric Parker got hurt and Kelley was our main receiver, even though he was brand new. Everybody was trying to find themselves last year but the second half of the season he (Witten) played real well. I think he got real comfortable with the position.''

And Clausen got real comfortable with Witten. He opened Saturday's full-scale scrimmage with a 33-yard strike to Witten. The two hooked up again for a 14-yard gain later in the workout.

''Anytime we see him matched up with a linebacker — or a safety, even — with his size and speed, we're going to try and get him the ball,'' Clausen said. ''Jason has come along real, real well.''

No doubt, he'll come along even better if the Vols can find a complement for Washington.


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