Tight ends' ambitious goal

Despite the loss of Brad Cottam, Tennessee's tight ends are holding to their goal of catching 100 passes this season.

``Is that possible?'' tight end Chris Brown said. ``Who knows? But that's our goal. That's what we want to do.

``If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. We're just trying to be successful and move on to championship status.''

Brown caught 31 passes last season. He could catch more than 50 this season. Brad Cottam, out for two to three months with a broken wrist, caught 14. Jeff Cottam and Luke Stocker are the other tight ends.

Tight ends have led the Vols in receiving once (Jason Witten, 2002) since 1978. And the school record for most catches in a season for a tight end is 48.

``The tight end position has grown a lot since I've been here,'' Brown said. ``Before I got here, it wasn't too much. Now people are starting to notice and respect us a lot more.''

The tight ends are imposing targets. The Cottam brothers are 6-feet-8. Stocker is 6-6. Brown is only 6-3.

``I'm the midget of the group,'' Brown said. ``I'm always made fun of. I'm pretty scrappy. That's what I like about myself. That's what the coaches like. I get the job done. I can't help it that I'm the smallest of the group.''

As the veterans of the receiving corps, the tight ends likely will carry the burden until the wide receivers emerge. ``

I think we have to,'' Brown said. ``We want the ball in our hands. We have a lot of young receivers still growing. For the time being, the tight ends will have to step up and make plays. If the receivers can't do it, we'll do it.''

But don't' underestimate the importance of losing Brad Cottam. One UT coach said the Vols had inserted special routes for Cottam and he had become a favorite target of quarterback Erik Ainge.


Austin Rogers is my pick to lead UT wide receivers in receptions, but don't overlook Josh Briscoe, said receivers coach Trooper Taylor.

Taylor likes Briscoe's speed and ability to get open, The key is catching and holding onto the ball.

``I improved a lot over the summer,'' Briscoe said. ``I just have to go out every day and make big plays. That's what the coaches have been pushing me to do.''

Briscoe said he was motivated by the Vols signing a strong group of wideouts.

``It made me think about being a junior and having just two years left,'' Briscoe said. ``I didn't want to be one of those guys that could have been and they said always had potential. I've been working my butt off trying to let them know I'm here.''

Briscoe said one of his strengths is his ability to find a crease in the defense.

``I take pride in my route running and being crisp,'' Briscoe said. ``I've just got to focus more on catching the ball consistently.''

Casey Woods, a fifth-year senior walk-on, said he thinks the returning receivers will surprise folks with their production this season.


While Tennessee's team basked in the glory of a one-sided, season opening victory over California at Neyland Stadium, cornerback Marsalous Johnson watched at home in Smyrna with mother, Patricia Fayne.

Johnson had been exiled from playing, handed a four-game suspension after being charged with waving a gun at an off-duty sheriff's deputy while driving along I-40.

Johnson maintained his innocence. In May, a jury deliberated 22 minutes and agreed. Johnson said he never waved a gun, although a toy pellet-type gun was found in his car.

``I wasn't really scared because like my mom told me the whole time, the truth will come out,'' Johnson said. ``And it did.''

The ordeal cost Johnson a chance to play against Cal. Still, he was able to enjoy what unfolded.

``It was exciting, man,'' Johnson said. ``I can't even explain it. It was unbelievable. From that summer on, our team worked to hard to get to that point that we knew we'd come out and play a great game.''

Did he have mixed emotions, considering he wasn't playing?

``I wasn't there, but I still believe I was a part of it because I sweated blood, everything for the team.''

This time around, Johnson gets his first start. He'll face All-American receiver DeSean Jackson. He'll face arguably the best passing team the Vols will see this season.

But after facing a jury and a felony charge of aggravated assault, facing Cal shouldn't get him rattled.

``Man, it was a lifetime experience,'' Johnson said of last summer's situation, ``something nobody would want to go through. Me going through that made me tougher and more determined.''

Extra Points: UT freshman tailback Lennon Creer bench pressed 375 pounds, about 50 more than redshirt junior Arian Foster. … Defensive end Xavier Mitchell was born in the Los Angeles area. He moved to Mississippi at age 11 because his mother wanted her kids to grow up in a less hectic environment. Mitchell returned to California two years ago to have back surgery. … UT offensive line coach Greg Adkins said he didn't think the Vols dominated the line of scrimmage against Cal last year while racking up 216 yards. He credited some schemes and backs finishing runs.

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