Harper led the Vols in receptions as a freshman (30) and as a sophomore (31), then averaged an impressive 13.5 yards per catch (24 receptions, 324 yards) as a junior. Despite an injury-plagued senior year, he finished his career with 98 receptions for 1,141 yards and an 11.6 yards-per-catch average.
Like Harper, Brandon Warren is smaller than most tight ends (6-1, 225 pounds) but also quicker than most tight ends. His speed makes him a tough cover for opposing linebackers and his size makes him a tough cover for opposing defensive backs. In other words, the guy is a matchup nightmare – a hybrid consisting of equal parts tight end and wide receiver.
"No question," Vol tight ends coach Jason Michael said. "What Brandon gives you is the ability to do different things. He's a guy that can do enough of the in-line stuff as a tight end, he can do some things from the backfield and he can do some things from an extended position (wide receiver).
"Defenses look at that and don't know what to call. Is he going to be extended (to wide receiver)? Is he going to be in the backfield when you run your two-back run game?"
A celebrated transfer from Florida State, Warren showed in preseason scrimmages that he has the talent to live up to his hype. He's strong enough to overpower cornerbacks, fast enough to outrun safeties and agile enough to catch the ball in traffic.
"That's what you want to find – those guys who can do multiple things to give you the ability to move that guy around and do some things," Michael said. "Is he a guy you're going to have at the point of attack, blocking power all game? No, not all the time. But he can do that to where teams can't set fronts keying on one guy and know what you're doing."
Strange as it sounds, Warren could be Tennessee's Offensive MVP this fall. He's that versatile and that talented. And he's going to get every opportunity to exhibit his many skills in offensive coordinator Dave Clawson's new West Coast attack.
"Oh, yeah. The offense is tight end-oriented," Warren said, grinning broadly. "We're going to have a chance to stretch the field a little – run down the field and also run little out routes and stuff like that. I think it works to my advantage."
Before opponents can defend Warren, they must find him. That will be no easy task, since Clawson moves him from spot to spot like a chess piece.
"Yeah," Warren said, smiling again, "I'm playing a little bit of fullback, a little bit of wide receiver sometimes and, of course, in line at tight end."
That's asking a lot of a guy who has practiced with the Vols for just three weeks, but Warren isn't concerned. He says FSU played him at multiple positions, as well.
"I'm really comfortable," he said. "I've done a lot of this before. The terminology is different from team to team, but I've picked it up pretty well."
Once he picks up the entire offense, Warren is sure to give Tennessee one of the most versatile tight ends in college football ... and give opposing defensive coordinators some major headaches.