When he first joined the Vols back in 2014, Jakob Johnson was a borderline three-star/four-star prospect with a lot of raw talent and no true position. He started out at linebacker for Tennessee, but after his freshman year, Johnson began the transition to tight end. And now that he’s had a couple years to learn the position, he feels ready to make an impact in his senior season.
“When I first got here I had no hands,” Johnson said during media availability on Friday. “I feel like now I have some hands. It took me some time. Getting good hands is really just working on your eye discipline, and I spent all winter working with Marquez (Callaway) and (Tyler) Byrd on the tennis ball machines and on the jugs. It’s just something you have to work on every day.”
Last season Johnson mostly backed up Ethan Wolf and Jason Croom. When he was in to play, he typically was used as a blocker. But when asked if he will be used more as a pass catcher this season, Johnson was optimistic.
“I haven’t dropped the ball since spring, so I hope so,” Johnson replied. “I think since I’ve made the switch from linebacker I’ve had a quiet couple years. But I’ve been working every day trying to improve and things are finally paying off.”
One of the biggest factors in Johnson’s increased confidence and passion has been new offensive coordinator Larry Scott. Last season, Scott was just Tennessee’s tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. But Scott was promoted to offensive coordinator this offseason after Mike DeBord left the program. And Johnson says Scott has been a big key for the offense, specifically the tight ends.
“When Coach Scott came in, it kind of rejuvenated everybody and everybody has a new focus and commitment to getting better,” Johnson said. “He showed us some of the things he did in Miami, you know like his standards and expectations for a tight end.
“If you want to be a tight end in his offense you’ve got to be able to make plays on the ball. But you also have to be physical and tough in the run game. That was his expectation from the start.”
Another new coach that Johnson says has been pivotal to his improvement has been strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson. When asked if the tight end group has been more physical this year, Johnson replied with “definitely” and said Gullickson has been the reason.
“I think a big part of that has been the work Coach Rock has done,” Johnson stated. “Since he got here we’ve gotten a lot stronger, a lot more explosive. I’ve gotten a lot stronger and more explosive, and a bunch of the freshmen have made big jumps too.”
But it hasn’t just been coaches who’ve helped Johnson improve as a tight end. He has a fellow senior tight end to thank for that too.
Ethan Wolf and Johnson have both been in the program since 2014. And according to Johnson, he and Wolf have had a strong relationship since he first moved from Florida up to Tennessee.
“Ethan, man, he is my brother,” Johnson said. “We’ve been here together since my first semester here. I remember walking to class with him. He was right down the door from me in the dorms.
“We’ve been cool from the jump, and he’s just been giving me tips here and there. It’s paid off.”
So far, Johnson has just two catches for 10 yards in his Tennessee career. And both of those catches came last season against Tennessee Tech. The Vols don’t have much in the way of experience at tight end behind Ethan Wolf this season, and they need someone to step up behind him.
Jakob Johnson says he’s ready to be that support in the tight end group, and he will have to prove it in his last season in Knoxville.