Next level?

Given that he has more ups and downs than an elevator, one Tennessee receiver probably should operate under the nickname "Otis."

That would be junior Brandon Warren. The 6-2, 208-pounder from Alcoa has the size and athleticism to be a terrific fit in a Vol offense that's tailored to big receivers. But he also has a problem with consistency. That's why he's listed No. 2 on the preseason depth chart behind freshman Nu'keese Richardson.

Warren essentially took over during one stretch in Saturday's situational scrimmage. With the ball at the defense's 20-yard line, he caught a 14-yard pass from Jonathan Crompton to the 6, then gathered in a quick hitch for the touchdown. Moments later, with the No. 1 offense backed up on its 1-yard line, he got open in the middle of the field to reel in a 20-yard strike from Crompton.

Lane Kiffin hopes Warren will be similarly productive when the Vols return to the practice field on Monday ... but he isn't counting on it.

"Brandon continues to have his ups and downs," the head man said. "One day we get excited and the next day he disappoints us. We'll continue (to evaluate him) through the week. A week from today he could be starting or he could be not playing very much - not having a significant role - depending on how his week goes."

With Austin Rogers (knee) out for the year and fellow receivers Denarius Moore (foot) and Gerald Jones (ankle) sidelined indefinitely, Tennessee desperately needs help at the wideout positions. That's what makes Warren's inconsistency so frustrating.

"Since we've been here he's shown flashes - had some really good days and some days that aren't as good," Kiffin said. "Hopefully, this week he'll have a really good week, so we can get him some balls in the opener."

Warren's inability to lock down a first-team spot has enabled Richardson and fellow freshman Marsalis Teague to launch serious bids for starting jobs.

"Marsalis started for us today," Kiffin said. "What you saw is very few mental errors. He had a number of 'em last week, cost us a third down (conversion) last week. This was another example of getting some of that out of the way in some preseason games. Hopefully, that will carry over into the opener."

If Warren can't provide the big receiver Tennessee needs, Rod Wilks eventually might. The 6-0, 220-pound redshirt freshman moved from safety to wideout last week and made a nifty reception on Saturday.

Asked if Wilks has shown signs of progress in his brief stint on offense, Kiffin nodded.

"He has," the head man said. "He actually went both ways today - offense and defense. His attitude's been great. He was helping the black shirts (scout squad) out today but he could actually play a little bit for us because he's picking it up pretty well."

Ideally, UT coaches would like to bring Wilks along slowly. But they'll only have that luxury if Brandon Warren, the Vols' version of an Otis elevator, can get to the next level ... and stay there.

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