Witten making impact in Vols offense

By Allen LaMountain
ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

   On Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, sophomore tight end Jason Witten served notice that he will be a force to reckon with in the Tennessee Volunteers offense from here on out.
   "Jason obviously has the physical tools from the standpoint of size and speed," said Vols head coach Phillip Fulmer. "He is a 6-5 265 pound guy who can run and get open, and he uses his body and has great hands. He is still very much learning our offense. He has made an impact and we look for him to continue to make an impact on our offense."
   A three-sport star at Elizabethton High School, Witten honed his athleticism not only on the football field, but on the basketball court and as the anchor of the Cyclones 4x200 and 4x400 relay teams as well.
   Witten -- on his breakthrough Saturday -- caught a career-high seven passes for 91 yards in Tennessee's 35-24 win over the Tide, including his first touchdown reception as a Vol, and is beginning to show the kind of ability that folks here in Betsy already knew he had.
   "It was something new the coaching staff put in that week, said Witten of his first scoring reception. "The middle of the field has been open for us, but we hadn't taken advantage of it. Alabama wasn't expecting me to get the ball, and I saw the corner coming up quickly, but luckily I just took the hit and scored."
   Witten currently ranks second on the Vols squad to freshman sensation Kelley Washington in receptions with 16, but hadn't been an integral piece of the offensive pie until Saturday afternoon.
   "Coach told me at halftime to expect my number to be called, and I felt it was great that coach Fulmer had that kind of confidence in me," said Witten. "It was discussed some after the Georgia game, but I think I showed the coaches that I can play and that I have the ability to do what is asked of me on the football field."
   In addition to his receptions, Witten was heavily involved in the Vols running game, throwing lead blocks that enabled both Casey Clausen and Travis Stephens to score late touchdowns that sealed Bama's fate.
   "To be a complete player at the tight end spot you have to be able to block," Witten said. "I was happy to be able to be a part of the play and throw a key block to get Stephens in the endzone. It was a fourth down play so I had to make the block. Blocking is a key to the position."
   With Witten contributing to the offense it only makes the Vols other weapons that much more dangerous, as now teams can't simply stack the line of scrimmage to stop Stephens or throw full blitz packages at Clausen, because that will open things up for him in the middle of the field.
   "It's just been a matter of finding where he's best going to help our football team," said Fulmer. "He could have been a really fine defensive player. I have said we just need to clone him and get several of those kind of guys. Obviously, he's just a good football player, and a great kid as well."
   With fellow sophomore Clausen at the controls of the Vols offense Witten knows how important it is to have the confidence of your quarterback on the field saying, "I think it's one of the biggest things to have the confidence of your quarterback. I think Casey knows he can throw me the ball and I'll go get it. I hope that the coaches and Casey see me as a weapon that they can use."
   Witten, who like most kids in this area grew up a huge Tennessee Volunteer fan, and is fulfilling his childhood dream of playing in Neyland Stadium. For Witten, the best is likely still to come.
   "It's finally coming in focus for me," Witten said. "I hope this is just the beginning and that I have a breakout season waiting to happen."
   While the loss to Georgia hurt the Vols chances of playing for the National Championship this season, Witten isn't quite ready to throw in the towel on the Vols season saying, "Everybody's goal is to win the National Championship, and we still have six games left. We just have to keep taking care of business. I'm like everyone on the team, we set our goals very high."