Will 2017 Finally Be Ethan Wolf’s Year?

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    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    Tight end Ethan Wolf has made some important catches in his Tennessee career. From a crucial 34-yard grab against Georgia in 2015 to a fingertip 20-yard touchdown grab against Florida last season, Wolf has made his mark in some of the Vols’ biggest games in his career.

    But Wolf’s overall body of work compared to the expectations around him coming in hasn’t been quite as productive as hoped.

    Ethan Wolf wasn’t the most highly-rated prospect in Tennessee’s loaded 2014 recruiting class, but he was still a top-350 overall player in the country according to 247Sports, and he had all the tools even as a freshman to work as a well-rounded tight end in the SEC. And with Butch Jones’ claim that he wanted to use tight ends heavily in his offense, the future looked bright for Wolf.

    But outside of those clutch catches, Wolf’s career hasn’t quite lived up to expectations.

    In his three years prior to this season, Wolf has caught 67 passes for 752 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers aren’t bad at all, especially when compared to one of the Vols’ greatest tight ends in school history. Jason Witten had 68 receptions for 797 yards and seven touchdowns in three seasons with Tennessee.

    But Witten was largely regarded as an underutilized weapon on Tennessee’s offense. And Wolf is starting to fit into that same mold.

    Wolf has never been one of Tennessee’s go-to receivers. The best season Wolf had was in 2015, and even then his receiving yards on the season were only fourth-best on the team.

    Considering all the talk Jones had about using tight ends in his offense and his praise of Wolf, those results have been somewhat disappointing. But 2017 could prove to be the year Ethan Wolf finally bursts into the spotlight.

    Wolf has bulked up to 258 pounds to fill out his large 6-foot-6 frame this offseason. He looks to be in the best shape of his life, and he’s had a strong fall camp heading into the 2017 season.

    But the potential for Wolf to have a big year in 2017 goes deeper than just him improving his body and refocusing his play.

    Wolf will be one of the few veterans on Tennessee’s offense that isn’t on the offensive line. Wolf and Josh Smith are the lone scholarship seniors who have been at Tennessee their entire career at the Vols’ skill positions. Wolf has 35 career starts to his name, and he’s easily the most experienced player on the Vols’ roster outside of the offensive line.

    Not only will Wolf be counted on to be a leader for the Vols’ pass catchers, but he could prove to be a safety blanket for Tennessee’s first-time starter at quarterback, whomever it is.

    Then there’s the fact that Wolf’s position coach, Larry Scott, is now Tennessee’s offensive coordinator.

    “That can never hurt anything,” Wolf stated to the media earlier this summer when asked about Scott calling plays. “If the tight end is going to catch 50 balls this year, then that will put me in the best position for it.”

    For Wolf, 50 catches would almost double the amount of receptions he’s had his entire career. But with the lack of experience at both the quarterback position and in the Vols’ pass catching corps, Wolf could certainly set career highs this year.

    But Wolf isn’t concerned with his numbers. He just wants to do whatever he can to make his last year as a Vol a successful one.

    “No, I certainly wouldn’t object to that many catches,” Wolf added, “but at the end of the day I love getting the ball because it’s fun and makes everything that much better. But I just want to win. So whether that’s 8 catches, 6 catches, or 0 catches, I’m going to be out there doing everything as hard as I possibly can.”

    The Vols are going to need Wolf to step up in the absence of other proven pass catchers. Wolf is easily the biggest target on the field at any time for Tennessee, and he should be a huge benefit to whichever young quarterback starts for the Vols.

    Ethan Wolf has had a solid career thus far. But this season could prove to be his best yet, and the Vols could use a breakout performance like that for their young offense this year.