Who'll be the tight end?

The good news: Tennessee's tight ends caught 39 passes last fall. <br> The bad news: Jason Witten caught all 39 of them, and he's bound for the NFL.

So, who will be the Vols' pass-catching tight end next fall?

''I hope we have one,'' offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. ''Aaron Kirkland is a guy we recruited to do that. Hopefully, Aaron will take care of business and become the kind of player he has the ability to be.''

Kirkland missed the Peach Bowl game due to academic woes, so he must improve in the classroom and on the football field if he is to be a factor next fall. If Kirkland can't do the job, the tight end role could fall to Victor McClure, a 290-pound converted offensive guard.

''Victor McClure did a nice job last year blocking but he's never going to be a real threat catching the ball,'' Sanders said. ''He may catch a few but he's never going to be a guy you're looking to throw to on third down.''

Another option is Justin Reed, a 6-5, 240-pounder who was signed as a punter but had good enough hands to play wide receiver in high school. If he can toughen up and improve his blocking, he might be a viable option.

''Justin Reed has got some size, and we're trying to find a place for him,'' Sanders said. ''We're trying to make that happen.''

Yet another option is Jake Finlayson, a 6-5, 260-pound sophomore walk-on. He is the younger brother of John Finlayson, who was a four-year starter for the Vols in the late 1990s.

''FInlayson played for us last year as a third tight end and did a nice job,'' Sanders noted. ''He's still got some developing to do.''

The Vols signed one tight end prospect in February -- 6-8, 230-pound Memphian Brad Cottam -- but he is considered to be a year or two away from contributing significantly.


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