Jason Witten - Big key to UT success

By Wes Holtsclaw

STAR Correspondent

   The Tennessee Volunteers lost to the Georgia Bulldogs Saturday afternoon in a close game. Many 'Orange and White' fans have placed the blame on the special teams, the coaching, and the 3-shoot zone formation.
   Another point of their blame has been placed on the inability to divert the attention between the receivers. However, the Vols did that on Saturday, and in case you weren't watching, they relied on Elizabethton's own Jason Witten.
   Witten ran several routes throughout the game, which allowed successful completion's from Casey Clausen to Kelley Washington.
   "He has done a good job opening the pass up for us," said Washington, freshman standout for the Vols. "He is really serious about everything he does, and he is an important part of our team."
   Said Clausen: "We have begun to utilize the tight end position a little more this year. He (Witten) is doing a good job and will help our team improve."
   Witten also provided critical blocking inside and in the defensive backfield, which paved the way for a good Travis Stephens running game.
   "He allowed me several good plays today," said Stephens, who gained 268 yards overall with a touchdown, "He gets in there and makes good blocks, he is young and improving and will do better as the season progresses."
   Witten was effective blocking the runs up the left gap, screen passes, and running cross patterns to take away coverage from the Bulldog defense.
   "Today, Casey was rushed a lot and I was trying to open up the offense," said Witten. "I was just trying to get the job done on some of their secondary, to take away some of the attention on Kelley so Casey could get the ball to him.
   "We tried to keep everything open, we just had too many mistakes."
   Witten was effective receiving the football, as he was thrown to six times on Saturday, catching three for 21 yards, including a career long 13-yard reception for an early first down in the Vols' first scoring drive, in what has been a promising season for the sophomore end.
   Jason, grandson of legendary coach Dave Rider and younger brother of Virginia Tech Hokie Shawn, has been the focus point of many college analysts and coaches this season.
   Many say the attention comes from his incredible backfield motion before plays to re-direct the opposing defense, his downfield play as a tight end, or as in Saturday's case, his ability to block any defensive threat.
   Witten has proven his value to many people, but he is happy to be known as a team player. Whatever the case, just like any player, he would've been happier with a win in Saturday's contest, instead of the national and regional recognition.
   "As a player, having contributed the way I have, it's tough," Witten said. "I would much rather have a win than these receptions. We just have to bounce back and come together, which is something you have to do on this level."
   If you have been watching Tennessee football this season, you have probably noticed the increase of Witten's playing time.
   One big question posed to the Tennessee coaching staff has been the decision not to start Witten on occasion, replacing him with senior John Finlayson. However, Witten has seen more playing time than the starter.
   This is attributed to his tremendous work ethic and his willingness to improve on a daily basis.
   "I think it's just coming from where I did," said Witten, "Coming from a coaching family, you learn you have to give it your all, all of the time.
   "I have been blessed with talent, they say the sky is the limit. As for me I just hope everyday I can get better. I have a good work ethic, and it will help me."
   Jason has also been a key player in the Vols' special teams, which struggled in Saturday's game.
   Witten, the co-winner of Tennessee's annual Harvey Robinson Award for the most improved player in offense, has some pretty good statistics through this point in the season, accumulating 45 yards on 9 receptions, with an average 5-yard gain.
   Opposing defenses should beware, as Tennessee plans to utilize the 6-5, 270-pound machine more often -- which is not surprising of the team.
   If Witten can continue his good blocking, quality receptions and outstanding diversion methods, the University of Tennessee football team will not have a lot to worry about for years to come.