Coming into this season, no Vol has more experience on the roster than Ethan Wolf.
The senior tight end enters this season with 35 starts in his career. Senior offensive lineman Jashon Robertson also has 35 career starts, but no other Vols come close to that career total. Wolf will be counted on to be a leader for the Vols’ young offense this season, and he’s embracing that role.
“We are going to have a young guy back there at quarterback, so throughout the summer (being a leader) is something I’ve tried to focus on,” Wolf said during media availability on Thursday afternoon. “Being a senior, we have to implement leadership so those younger guys know they can count on us.”
And speaking of those young quarterbacks, Wolf has been impressed with what he’s seen from them so far this summer.
“They’ve done good, you know, both of those guys have been real vocal and real passionate in what they’re doing,” Wolf said. “They’re mature beyond their years. They both are looked at as leaders on the offense and the team. For them to be able to do that at such a young age is good to see from a senior.
“We don’t have many seniors compared to players on the team, so for those guys to help out with leadership is big.”
The Vols aren’t just ushering in a new quarterback on offense, though. Aside from the offensive line, wide receiver Jauan Jennings, and running back John Kelly, Tennessee’s offense is going to have a drastically different personnel this year. Even the tight end position behind Wolf looks different than it did a year ago with Jason Croom now graduated and in the NFL.
But Wolf thinks Tennessee’s offense will be able to show off the versatility and depth at the tight end position this season.
“We’re pretty deep right now,” Wolf said of the Vols’ tight ends. “Last year we had a little bit of injuries throughout the position. But now we just got the two new guys (James Brown, LaTrell Bumphus) in that are doing really well. They haven’t had much time to learn the offense, but we’ve put in a lot of time with them and are making sure that when they go out on the field they’ll know what they’re doing.
“Eli (Wolf), Jakob (Johnson), and Austin (Pope), all those guys are working their butts off every day.”
When asked if anyone specifically had stood out to him during the offseason, Wolf didn’t offer up a single Vol at first, saying instead that every new player had impressed him.
“Everybody has caught my eye on their work ethic and the way they attack things,” Wolf said. “It’s good to see guys come in and understand how we do things. Yeah there’s some teaching along the way, but everybody has been receptive to the information and they all come in and work their butts off every day.”
But after that reply, Wolf thought a moment and a certain former five-star offensive tackle prospect sprung to his mind.
“When I found out Trey Smith was only 17, I was shocked because I didn’t know that,” Wolf claimed. “I didn’t know that he had just turned 18. He’s a freak of nature. I’m excited to see how he does.”
Unlike the past few offseasons, Wolf and the other seniors on the team have been able to develop their leadership with the team through 7-on-7 work. Head coach Butch Jones hasn’t been a proponent of 7-on-7 drills over the summer in the past, but he let the team participate in them this offseason.
And Wolf thinks that work has paid off for him and the older Vols especially.
“The coaches aren’t allowed to be out there, so that’s all put on us,” Wolf stated. “We gotta go out there and we have to develop a 7-on-7 and just all that stuff to get the timing down. Another thing it builds is leadership because you can’t do it without leaders because then everything would go all different directions. You gotta have everybody on the same page, running the same plays.
“We’re not going out there just to throw the ball and throw incomplete passes to the defense because then we hear it from them.”
Ethan Wolf enters this season with 67 catches for 752 yards and four touchdowns. He has 17 more starts in his career than the next closest skill position player on the Vols’ offense (Josh Smith has 18). Wolf will be counted on to be a leader on offense, and so far the younger Vols he’s in charge of are impressing him.