Juniors: Eli Wolf, Dominick Wood-Anderson
Sophomores: Ja’Quain Blakely, LaTrell Bumphus, Austin Pope
Freshmen: James Brown, Jacob Warren
Tennessee’s tight ends are easily the most inexperienced group on the Vols’ entire roster. Only one player has made a start at tight end while wearing a Vol uniform, and that’s Austin Pope. He started against Kentucky last season and made just two catches for nine yards in nine game appearances. Eli Wolf is the most veteran player of this group, and he has just four career catches for 56 yards in 15 appearances.
The Vols want to use more tight ends in their offense this upcoming season. But it’s clear there’s a lot of work to be done with this unit.
Tennessee’s overall lack of experience and ideal size at tight end was apparent to Tyson Helton and Jeremy Pruitt, and that’s why landing four-star junior college tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson was so huge. Barring some sort of injury, Wood-Anderson should be able to come in this fall and nab the No. 1 tight end spot for the Vols. He has size (6-foot-5, 257 pounds) and speed, and he can both catch and block effectively.
But what do the Vols have past Wood-Anderson? Will Tennessee be able to use more two tight end sets this year, or will they have to limit themselves in Tyson Helton’s first year as offensive coordinator?
Eli Wolf came in as a walk-on back in 2015, and he was known more for being the little brother of then-starting tight end Ethan Wolf than for anything he had done himself on the football field. But Eli was awarded a scholarship prior to the 2017 season, and he was counted on more last year despite still being undersized.
But the spring and summer under UT’s new strength and conditioning program has worked wonders for Wolf, and he’ll be the biggest he’s ever been at Tennessee this fall at 6-foot-4, 236 pounds.
Wolf was awarded the Most Improved award on offense after the Orange & White Game, and Jeremy Pruitt had nothing but great things to say about the younger Wolf at SEC Media Days. Wolf himself was one of the three Vols in attendance, and it’s clear he’s established himself as a leader on a young UT offense.
The younger Wolf should be able to nail down the No. 2 tight end spot, and if his improvement in blocking has come as far as Pruitt proclaimed at SEC Media Days, then Tennessee should be fine rolling out Wood-Anderson and Wolf this season.
But what if either one of those players gets injured? Who are the third and fourth tight ends?
Austin Pope and Ja’Quain Blakely are likely to fill more of an H-back type of role in Tennessee’s new offense. Both are bigger players, and Pope played that role in the spring. Blakely is a converted linebacker who spent time with the tight ends in the spring, and he’s still learning the nuances of the position. Expect him and Pope to spend more time in the backfield or off the line of scrimmage rather than up at the usual tight end spot.
That leaves LaTrell Bumphus, James Brown, and true freshman Jacob Warren as the possible backups for Wood-Anderson and Wolf.
Bumphus looks like he’s maybe finally found his home at tight end after being used as a defensive end last season. He’s up to 263 pounds and will likely be more of a blocking tight end, but he has skill and was a borderline three-star/four-star prospect coming out of high school. He probably has the highest potential in 2018 of the three remaining tight ends.
James Brown didn’t appear in any games for the Vols last season as he redshirted. He played quarterback primarily in high school and needed last year as a developmental season. He did catch a few passes as a senior for Jones High School (11 receptions for 201 yards and four touchdowns), but how much will he be able to help out this season? He’s still smaller than what UT’s coaches would like at 6-foot-3, 229 pounds, but he might be the only other real pass-catching threat at tight end besides Pope if he still plays there some.
Ideally, 2018 would be a redshirt year for Jacob Warren if for no other reason than to help him add more weight. At 6-foot-6, he has the ideal frame for a pass-catching tight end and showed off his skills time and time again at Farragut. But at just 224 pounds, he shouldn’t be counted on to contribute this season. But he has some immense potential once he adds the necessary weight.
The Vols will be counting heavily on Dominick Wood-Anderson and Eli Wolf to shoulder the load at tight end this year, and the new H-back/fullback option will add an element Tennessee’s offense hasn’t seen in several years. Wood-Anderson, Wolf, and Pope are the three names you’ll probably hear the most from this unit.
Tennessee will place a lot of importance on tight ends in the future, but this year won’t be typical of what you can expect from Helton’s offense in how they use tight ends. But there’s still potential there, especially with Wood-Anderson. Overall, the players here need to get bigger and stronger, though.