Spring review: TEs

The fact projected first-team tight end Jeff Cottam did not catch a pass in Tennessee's three spring scrimmages wasn't exactly a surprise. Historically, the Vols rarely throw to the tight end.

Further inspection, however, reveals that 2009 might be an exception to that rule. Here's why:

Cottam was hampered by a knee injury that significantly limited his participation the last month of spring practice. Thus, the 6-6, 260-pound senior's failure to catch a scrimmage pass is seriously misleading.

While Cottam was rehabilitating, the Vols' other five tight ends were making hay. Each caught at least two passes and each averaged at least 10 yards per catch.

Junior Luke Stocker, bracketed first-team with Cottam, caught three passes for 31 yards. The 6-6, 245-pounder has the tools to be Tennessee's most productive receiver at the position since Jason Witten.

Sophomore Ben Bartholomew, switched from fullback to tight end during the spring, looked like a natural at the new outpost. The 6-2, 250-pounder caught 7 scrimmage passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.

Ben Lehning, a 6-0, 230-pound sophomore walk-on from Nashville, made perhaps the most spectacular catch of the spring in Scrimmage No. 2 on April 10, reeling in a high throw from B. J. Coleman despite having his helmet knocked off by safety Derrick Furlow. Lehning finished the spring with 52 yards on four catches, an average of 13 yards per reception.

Another walk-on, Jeremy Lester, also shows promise at the position. A Sevierville native, the 6-2, 232-pounder spent a year at Hargrave Military before enrolling at UT. He caught two passes for 23 yards in the Orange & White Game.

Tennessee's new pro-style offense features a lot of slants and short throws over the middle. These are the kind of passes typically thrown to slot receivers and tight ends.

You've heard it before but here it is again: This might be the year that the tight end finally makes a major impact in Tennessee's passing game.

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