Ever since Jim Chaney’s last stint at Tennessee, the Vols haven’t had a true difference-maker at the tight end position. Ethan Wolf was a consistent contributor for the Vols from 2014-17, catching at least 22 passes every single season he was on the team and finishing four yards short of 1,000 receiving yards in his career. But Tennessee hasn’t had a tight end drafted into the NFL since 2013 when Mychal Rivera left early after a breakout 2012 campaign thanks to the play-calling of Chaney.
Now that Chaney is back calling plays for the Vols, expect to see a bump in the usage rate of Tennessee’s tight ends. And that should excited senior Dominick Wood-Anderson.
When Wood-Anderson joined the Vols as part of their 2018 signing class, he was a big coup for the Volunteers. Tennessee signed the four-star JUCO product out of Arizona Western Community College despite legit interest from Alabama and other programs, and hopes were high that Wood-Anderson would come in and immediately change the Vols’ tight end room. The aforementioned Wolf had graduated, leaving UT with little to no experience in their TE group.
While the former No. 1 JUCO tight end flashed potential throughout the season, his first year in Knoxville didn’t live up to expectations. Wood-Anderson caught a touchdown pass in the Vols’ first game of the season, but he would only catch one more touchdown the entire rest of the season.
In his debut campaign with Tennessee, Wood-Anderson finished with 17 catches for 140 yards and two scores, a far cry from what he and Vol fans had hoped for.
But with Jim Chaney now calling the plays at Tennessee, the future looks very bright for Wood-Anderson and the Vols’ offense.
In his lengthy coaching career, Chaney has coached a John Mackey Award winner, three All-Americans, and eight NFL draft picks out of the tight end position. It’s safe to say that Chaney knows how to use tight ends in his offenses, and Wood-Anderson has all the tools to be an effective weapon in Tennessee’s 2019 offense.
Wood-Anderson looks to be one of the more physically gifted tight ends Chaney has ever coached, and the veteran play-caller is excited to see how the senior can be used this year.
“He’s a talented young man. It’ll be interesting to see what we can get done with him,” Chaney said during a media availability before the start of fall camp. “How many multiple positions can we get him to play? That’s always the trick with that position. How far can he take the game? In the spring, we didn’t really open up a lot of things for Dom. But I do think he’s a talented guy, and when he gets the ball in his hands, he does a really nice job with that.
“He’s going to be one of those guys that’s going to be forced touches. You’re gonna have to say hey, we gotta make sure he touches it X amount of times. I do think he’s a talent who can help us win a lot of games.”
As long as Tennessee’s offensive line can improve and Chaney doesn’t need Wood-Anderson to stay on the line to help block a ton like the talented tight end had to last season, expect to see Wood-Anderson catch a lot of passes this season. Chaney has shown in the past that he’s willing to get his tight ends the ball as much as possible.
Dating back to his time as Purdue’s offensive coordinator starting in 1997, tight ends have often flourished in Chaney’s offenses. When Chaney took over as OC at Purdue in 1997, he was given a TE room that lost the leading receiver from the previous season. Brandon Jewell was the only tight end who did anything of note for the Boilermakers in 1996, catching 11 passes for 92 yards.
In Chaney’s first year, there wasn’t a dramatic turnaround, but the tight end unit was used a bit more. Jon Blackman caught 13 receptions for 201 yards in 1997. But it was in 1998 when Chaney found his weapon at the TE spot.
Tim Stratton burst onto the scene in 1998 as one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets at Purdue, catching 38 passes for 381 yards and seven touchdowns. Stratton was named a Freshman All-American by Sporting News and was awarded an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. He was named to the First Team All-Big Ten team as a sophomore in 1999, and then he won the Mackey Award — given to the top tight end in college football — as a junior when he caught 58 passes for 605 yards and two touchdowns. As a senior, Stratton was a Mackey Award semifinalist and finished with 59 catches for 509 yards and two scores.
By the time Stratton graduated, he was Purdue’s all-time leader in receptions with 204 catches, and he finished his career with 2,088 receiving yards and 15 scores.
After Stratton, Chaney helped Charles Davis turn out a very productive career as a Boilermaker, finishing his career with 78 receptions for 865 yards and four scores. Most of his receptions (60) came in his last two seasons with Purdue, and his solid finish to his collegiate career helped him get drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Chaney also coached Dustin Keller in 2004 and 2005, but Keller would go on to have his real breakout seasons after Chaney left Purdue for the NFL.
In his first stint at Tennessee, Chaney helped Luke Stocker realize his potential and turned him into an NFL tight end. After catching just 13 passes for 139 yards in 2008, Stocker exploded for 29 receptions for 389 yards and five scores in 2009 and followed that up with 39 catches for 417 yards and two touchdowns in 2010. He finished with 85 receptions for 956 yards and eight touchdowns and was drafted in the fourth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2011 NFL Draft.
After Stocker came the emergence of Mychal Rivera. In 2011, Rivera caught 29 receptions for 344 yards and a score and then broke out in 2012 with 36 catches for 562 yards and five touchdowns. He broke the school record held by Jason Witten for most receiving yards in a single season by a tight end, and he was voted a First Team All-SEC performer that season. He went on to be drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders.
At Arkansas, Chaney immediately turned around the Razorbacks’ TE room. In 2012, the leading producer at tight end for Arkansas was Chris Gragg with 22 receptions for 289 yards and three scores. In Chaney’s first year in 2013, Hunter Henry hauled in 28 catches for 409 yards and four touchdowns. He was voted a consensus Freshman All-American that season and earned All-SEC honors as well. Henry again earned All-SEC honors in 2014 — Chaney’s second and final year at Arkansas — when he hauled in 37 receptions for 513 yards and two scores. AJ Derby caught 22 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns that same season as well. Derby would go on to be drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft following the 2014 season, and Henry would go pro a year later and was taken in the second round by the San Diego Chargers.
In his one year at Pittsburgh, Chaney boosted JP Holtz’ numbers from his junior campaign in 2014 to his senior year in 2015. Before Chaney, Holtz caught 21 receptions for 199 yards and four scores as a junior. In Chaney’s one year in 2015, Holtz caught 24 passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns. The more dramatic turnaround came with Scott Orndoff, though. In 2014, Orndoff caught just four passes for 24 yards and a score. Under Chaney, Orndoff hauled in 13 receptions for 244 yards and five touchdowns, finishing one touchdown shy of Tyler Boyd for the team lead in TD receptions.
Georgia barely used their tight ends in 2015 before Chaney’s arrival. Jeb Blazevich led the Bulldogs’ TE group with 15 receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown in 2015. But in 2016, Chaney made Isaac Nauta a standout, as the freshman brought in 29 receptions for 361 yards and three touchdowns. Nauta became the third tight end under Chaney to earn All-American honors, as he was voted a Freshman All-American by several different outlets.
In Chaney’s second season, Nauta took a major step back, catching only nine passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns. But Chaney’s third and final year with the Bulldogs saw Nauta bounce back with 30 catches for 430 yards and three scores.
Now, Dominick Wood-Anderson has a chance to realize his potential under Chaney in his final year as a Vol.
On average, tight ends who were already on the roster the year before Chaney joined the team and registered some sort of stats saw a significant boost in their production in Chaney’s first year at the helm. Luke Stocker saw his receptions increase by 16 from 2008 to 2009, and his receiving yards rose from 139 to 389 in one year. JP Holtz at Pittsburgh saw his production increase from 21 catches to 24 and his yards from 199 to 350.
In Chaney’s first year at his previous stops, his main starting tight ends have averaged 24.6 receptions for 342 yards and 3.2 touchdowns.
Don’t believe the numbers or Chaney himself? Then just ask tight ends coach Brian Niedermeyer. He’s a big believer in Wood-Anderson and the kind of production Chaney can get out of him in his offensive scheme.
“He definitely fits into our offense well, and he’s really good for coach Chaney’s plan in the future for using tight ends,” Niedermeyer said during a media availability last week. “He has always had great tight ends in all of his offenses. There is some crazy stat of how many receptions they’ve had every year and how many receiving yards he’s always had at tight end. (Wood-Anderson) fits in well.”
Niedermeyer didn’t specify what statistics he was talking about, but if all the previous numbers don’t impress you, take a look at these: In the 19 previous seasons Chaney has been an offensive coordinator since 1997, he’s had a tight end catch at least 25 passes in 14 of those seasons, and he’s had a tight end accumulate at least 300 receiving yards in 15 of those seasons. He’s also had a tight end catch at least three touchdowns 12 different times.
If Dominick Wood-Anderson can stay healthy and the Vols’ offensive line can protect Jarrett Guarantano, watch for No. 4 to have a breakout season in his final year wearing the orange and white.