Wasting Warren

When he transferred from Florida State to Tennessee he expected to catch more than one pass per game. That's why he's frustrated and why Vol fans are frustrated, too.

So, why has the much ballyhooed Brandon Warren caught just five passes for 65 yards in Tennessee's first four games?

Vol tight ends coach Jason Michael says the staff is trying to find situations where the sophomore tight end can excel. Because Tennessee was in pound-the-rock mode last Saturday at Auburn, 6-6, 245-pound Luke Stocker was a better fit than the 6-1, 225-pound Warren for most of the situations the Vols encountered.

"Last week the flow of the game (put Tennessee) in a little more of a run mode," Michael said. "We did some different things with Luke – moving him around and doing some things from off the ball. We felt a lot better at that task, with Luke doing that."

That explanation is unlikely to satisfy Vol fans, many of whom believe Warren has the skills to invigorate an impotent UT passing attack. Michael can relate. He believes Warren can have major impact, as well.

"Moving forward with Brandon, we HAVE to get him the ball," Michael said. "What things does he do well? I think we're taking those things and putting together a package that's best for him, best for us and manageable for both of us – from an offensive standpoint, as well as what we're asking him to do."

In the meantime, however, Warren is seeing limited playing time, catching one pass per game and exhibiting body language that suggests he is not a happy camper.

"He's a competitive guy," Michael said. "I agree somewhat with the frustration. He wants to be out there every snap; that's the type of kid he is. But the way he handles not playing as many snaps as he wants to is coming out on Sundays, getting in the film room, looking at the things he's got to do moving forward, then come out and work hard.

"He's a competitive guy who wants to be out there. He's playing faster and doing better. He sees how to get involved, and we've got to get him in there to give him an opportunity to help us and make some plays."

One reason Warren's snaps have been limited is that Stocker is playing quite well. Except for dropping three passes in the home opener with UAB, he has been one of Tennessee's most productive offensive performers. Stocker is proving especially effective as a run blocker.

"You can see from week to week that he's getting better," Michael said. "Now there are some things, obviously, he still needs to improve on – his footwork and some other fundamental things – but he goes to work every day. He tries to play physical every single play. When you do that, more times than not, things are going to work out for you.

"He's going forward. He wants to learn. He comes in there and says, 'What do I need to do better?' He's really good about that."

Warren's snaps would be even more limited if Jeff Cottam were healthy. Cottam started six games at tight end in 2007 and was the projected starter for '08 until a preseason back problem sidelined him. He is practicing this week and could play a few snaps Saturday against Northern Illinois.

"As we move forward we'll look at 'Where is he?'" Michael said. "As soon as the doctors clear him, hopefully, we can get him the ball."

Cottam's return will give Tennessee three tight ends, instead of two. That will significantly upgrade the Vols' depth and versatility at the position.

"When you look at those three guys – what Jeff can do, what Luke's been able to do and what Brandon can do – it gives you three different body types you can use in multiple positions and do different things with them," Michael said. "I think it does nothing but help us to get in that two-tight end package, mixing and matching those guys."

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