Where's Brandon Warren?

There was an unconfirmed Brandon Warren sighting at Sanford Stadium last weekend, fueling speculation that the much-heralded but seldom-seen Tennessee football player really does exist.

Like the Loch Ness Monster and Sasquatch, however, Brandon Warren's lack of visibility has some Vol fans wondering if he is merely a figment of their imagination ... a creature of legend, not substance.

The Big Orange Nation's bewilderment is understandable. Here's a guy who was a Freshman All-American at Florida State two years ago ... a guy who has "a very unique and dymamic skill set," according to Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson. Still, Warren can't get a touch for a Vol team that ranks 104th nationally in total offense and 108th in scoring offense.

You wonder: How can a guy that's so good be having so little impact on an offense that's so bad?

Originally, Tennessee's coaching staff explained that Warren, at 6-1 and 225 pounds, was a bit small to be an every-down tight end. That's why he was stuck behind 6-6, 245-pound Luke Stocker. Warren also was a tad small to be an every-down fullback/H-back. That's why he was stuck behind 6-0, 240-pound Kevin Cooper.

Fair enough. If he's too small to play tight end or H-back, then why not use him as a slot receiver? Well, Big Orange coaches thought of that.

"He's a lot more of a slot receiver than a true tight end," Clawson conceded earlier today.

Unfortunately, the Vol staff tried to teach him to play the slot while also teaching him to play tight end AND fullback – which is like trying to teach an actor the roles of three characters in the same play.

"Unfortunately for Brandon, in a lot of ways I don't think we've been fair to him," Clawson said. "When we had Jeff Cottam injured, we had no other backup tight end (behind Stocker). We tried to get Aaron Douglas ready but his shoulder wasn't right. We tried to get Austin Johnson ready but he twisted his ankle."

As a result, the coordinator says the Vols kept Warren at tight end "out of necessity because there was no one else.

"We had to get Brandon reps as an in-line tight end because you were going into every game not having a backup fullback, not having a backup tight end if something had happened to Luke or Cooper. We ended up asking him to do too much."

And now the Vols are asking him to do too little. After catching five passes for 65 yards in the first three games, he has not caught a ball in the past three games. He played just six snaps in Game 4 at Auburn and seven snaps in Game 6 at Georgia last weekend.

Despite Warren's lack of playing time, Clawson says the talented sophomore is getting "better every week" in his understanding of the Tennessee offense. Still, the coordinator says the Vols probably would utilize him the same way they did before given the chance to replay the first six games.

"How would you do it differently? I don't know how much choice you had," Clawson said. "We didn't have depth at those positions. We had one fullback. We had one tight end. He has the skill set that, at some point, I believe he's going to be able to do all of that stuff well."

The coordinator readily admits that, in trying to prepare Warren to play tight end, H-back and slot receiver, the Vol staff "probably hurt his development. Now that we have Jeff Cottam back (at tight end) and Ben Bartholomew is starting to develop at fullback, I've felt more comfortable the last two weeks with what Brandon can do."

UT staffers actually put together a package for Warren last week that would utilize him at both tight end and slot receiver against Georgia. Because of Tennessee's inability to sustain drives, however, the Vols got just 45 snaps and Warren was in for only seven of those.

"Brandon is very dynamic in the pass game, and we went into last week with a package to play him half tight end, half receiver," Clawson said, adding that the package was "going to be 15 plays, based on an 80-play game, that becomes seven or eight plays in a 40-play game."

Still, the coordinator insists that Warren will play a key role in Tennessee's plans ... eventually.

"Last week we did not play him nearly as much as we had hoped," Clawson said. "The plan this week is to try and play him more. Hopefully, if we can convert third downs, that'll materialize."

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