We get you ready for the start of Tennessee’s 2019 fall camp by previewing the Vols’ roster position-by-position. Make sure to check out our look at Tennessee’s offensive line. Next up is our look at Tennessee’s tight end group.
Seniors: Dominick Wood-Anderson
Juniors: Andrew Craig (RS), Austin Pope (RS)
Sophomores: Princeton Fant (RS)
Freshmen: Sean Brown, Jackson Lowe, Jacob Warren (RS)
Tennessee’s trio of wide receivers have received all of the talk this offseason when the passing game has been brought up.
Jauan Jennings, Josh Palmer, or Marquez Callaway could lead the Vols in receiving this season, but senior tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson is set up to benefit the most from the addition of Jim Chaney as offensive coordinator.
Wood-Anderson arrived in Knoxville last season as the No. 2 JUCO tight end in the country. In his first year with the Vols, he was the starter from the moment he stepped foot on campus. As a junior, Wood-Anderson started 10 games while playing in a total of 11. The California native only caught 17 passes, however, leading to two touchdown receptions and 140 yards.
As a group, the tight ends caught just 23 passes last season. Wood-Anderson accounted for 74 percent of the production while Eli Wolf caught five passes himself. Wolf transferred to Georgia in the winter, however, leaving redshirt junior Austin Pope as the only other returning tight end with production last season. Pope only caught one pass, and it went for 55 yards before he fumbled it out of the back of the end zone in Tennessee’s blowout loss against Florida.
With Chaney as offensive coordinator, the production from the position should skyrocket this season.
Chaney has worked with, and developed, several great tight ends over the course of his coaching career. In 2008, he was the tight ends coach for the St. Louis Rams in the NFL, and his time in college has led to several tight ends getting drafted into the NFL.
In Knoxville, Chaney served as Tennessee’s OC starting in 2009. He developed Luke Stocker and Jeff Cottam into NFL tight ends early in his first tenure at UT. Even though Lane Kiffin only stayed one year as head coach, Chaney remained on staff for Derek Dooley, where he continued to develop Mychal Rivera into an NFL draft pick.
Then, Chaney moved on to Arkansas where tight ends Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle were instrumental in his offense. At Georgia, his next stop in the SEC, Isaac Nauta was a crucial piece of Chaney’s offense.
During his final season in Athens, Chaney’s tight ends caught 41 passes. Wood-Anderson is a good athlete for his size, and with a new offensive coordinator, he should catch anywhere between 30-40 passes as he becomes one of Jarrett Guarantano’s favorite targets.
There’s a clear-cut starter at the tight end position in Knoxville, but the depth behind Wood-Anderson remains a concern.
Last season, Pope, redshirt freshman Jacob Warren, redshirt junior Andrew Craig, and redshirt sophomore Princeton Fant backed up Wood-Anderson. That will be the case this season as well, but Tennessee adds two freshman tight ends to the mix that figure to shake up the rotation.
Jeremy Pruitt, Chaney, and tight ends coach Brian Niedermeyer set out in the 2019 recruiting cycle to add size to the position. That’s exactly what they did with four-star Jackson Lowe from Cartersville, Georgia and three-star Sean Brown from Rome, Georgia.
The freshman duo likely won’t be primary pass-catching options, but they should play a role as blockers in the running game. Both stand at 6-foot-5, adding much-needed size to the room. Tennessee only had one tight end over 6-foot-4 last year. Both already have some bulk on their frames as well, as both already weigh over 240 pounds.
Entering camp, Pope is likely slated as the No. 2 tight end. His 2018 campaign was summed up in one play during the Florida game when he fumbled at the goal line after hauling in his only reception of the season. After that play, he lost his job for multiple weeks.
Craig, a former walk-on, replaced Pope and played a pivotal role as a run-blocking tight end last season. He figures to play the same role this season.
Warren is the most intriguing name on the depth chart. The Knoxville native is a great athlete who made some ridiculous catches for Farragut in high school, but he’s needed to add weight since he stepped foot on campus. According to the roster, he’s up to 241 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame, and as a result, Warren could prove himself to be a reliable pass-catcher behind Wood-Anderson.
Another intriguing name at tight end is Princeton Fant, who has bounced around different positions. Fant has taken reps at both running back and linebacker, but he appears prepared to remain at tight end. With an emphasis on run-blocking and a need for run-blocking tight ends, Fant could carve out quite a bit of playing time at 6-foot-2, 232 pounds.
With the help of Chaney, the tight end room will go as Wood-Anderson goes. But depth needs to establish itself quick, fast, and in a hurry during fall camp.