Obviously, Vol staffers were hoping Jeff would exhibit his big brother's knack for catching passes WITHOUT exhibiting his knack for incurring injuries. If Jeff turns out to be the player his sibling was, however, Tennessee's coaches will be happy to deal with a few health problems.
Although injuries limited Brad to 10 starts in five years, he played well enough when healthy to convince the Kansas City Chiefs to spend a third-round pick on him in the recent NFL Draft.
"With him being injured and only playing in five games his senior year, it opened my eyes," Jeff said of Brad's draft status. "I have two more years left. I've been a little unfortunate with injuries but I see what lies ahead of me if I work hard and stay after it."
Like Brad, Jeff is a towering 6-8, 265-pounder with surprisingly good speed and hands. When Brad suffered a broken wrist in a preseason scrimmage last August, Jeff wound up assuming his brother's first-team job for six games in the early stages of the 2007 season. In addition to his brother's starting spot, Jeff got his sibling's advice each Saturday.
"He gave me a heads-up on everything I needed to expect," Jeff recalled. "He gave me advice every time I came off the field – told me what I was doing wrong and what I should be doing. He helped out a lot last year."
Even with his brother's help, though, Jeff caught just four passes for 19 yards, a mere 4.8 yards per catch. Brad, who started the last four games of the '07 season once his wrist healed, was considerably more productive in the passing game. He wound up catching five balls for 125 yards, a 25.0 average.
Jeff, who is a more physical blocker than Brad, is hoping to develop his brother's penchant for the big play in the year ahead.
"I'm just doing the best I can," Jeff said, "and hoping to make a bunch of big plays this year."
Tennessee needs "a bunch of big plays" from Jeff, since the Vols also are looking to replace Chris Brown, a three-year starter at tight end who caught 41 balls as a senior last fall.
With Brad and Brown departed, Jeff Cottam realizes he needs to play a bigger role in the passing game this fall than he did last fall.
"It's a great opportunity," he said. "I've been looking forward to this ever since I got here. I'm just working hard, trying to make progress with my broken leg and get ready for the season.
"Right now I need to work on my routes and catch the ball more. I think I've got a good grasp on blocking – I've been blocking for two years – but I've got to get with the quarterback and get my routes down."
Although he didn't catch a lot of passes in his six starts last fall, Jeff learned a lot of important lessons.
"The biggest thing I learned," he said, "was the speed of the game and what it takes to compete."
Based on spring scrimmages, it appears that Tennessee's new West Coast Offense will feature a lot of passes to the tight end.
"It looks like it," Cottam said, flashing a quick grin. "There are a few more balls being thrown at us this year, and I'm sure excited about that."