Even after moving from tight end to wide receiver last spring, Brandon Warren looked like ... well, a tight end trying to play wide receiver.
Those were frustrating times for a guy who was a Freshman All-America tight end at Florida State in 2006 before transferring to be nearer his cancer-stricken mother in Alcoa.
Now he seems to be finding his niche by losing some weight.
Warren packed 230 pounds on his 6-2 frame when the 2008 season began. After catching just 10 passes for 85 yards last fall, he shed 12 pounds and spent last spring working as a 218-pound wideout. He appeared too slow for the position, even though he caught a couple of touchdown passes in the spring game.
A sleeker Brandon Warren showed up for preseason camp this August, however, and he now exhibits the quickness and mobility to be a factor at wide receiver.
"I weighed 208 this morning," Warren said following Tuesday's practice. "I was 230 when I got here, so I feel lighter on my feet."
It shows. In a 7-on-7 drill, Warren ran by a freshman defensive back for a 35-yard touchdown catch. Minutes later, he made a surprisingly crisp cut on an out route and hauled in a 10-yard pass. Clearly, the loss in weight has produced a gain in agility.
"It's helped a lot; I can tell a difference," he said. "Being out there you've got to be smooth. It's helped with my quickness, my footwork ... everything."
Tennessee's quick-passing attack, built on the Southern Cal model, can make superstars out of big receivers. The Vols have a cast of small wideouts, however, except for Warren and 6-3, 207-pound senior Quintin Hancock.
"Having a big frame," Warren said, "I'll be a big target."
Especially if he can stay healthy. Warren suffered a foot injury earlier this week that he aggravated on Tuesday.
"I did a little something to my foot this morning," he said. "Toward the end of practice it started bothering me but, for the most part, I'm handling that pretty good."
Simply put, Tennessee needs a big year from Warren due to its attrition at the receiver positions. Sophomores Ahmad Paige and Tyler Maples transferred following spring practice. Senior Austin Rogers is out for the year with a torn ACL. Junior Denarius Moore has missed all of preseason camp with a broken bone in his foot. Junior Gerald Jones is practicing with a cast on the left wrist he broke last spring.
Warren wants to be a factor but doesn't feel pressure to be a go-to guy.
"I just want to contribute to the team, help any way I can," he said. "I want to be ready to respond."
Toward that end, he is working hard to get comfortable with the new pro-style offense Tennessee is installing this season.
"I'm handling it pretty well," he said. "I come in every day, go over my installment stuff, make sure I'm crisp with what I need to know for the day. That's making practice a lot smoother."
Working against 180-pound cornerbacks instead of 250-pound defensive ends is making practice a lot smoother, as well.
"Those big guys, I don't have to really deal with them no more," Warren said, grinning broadly. "I'm isolated on an island with the corner - somebody who'll probably be smaller than me - so I feel a little more comfortable."