Tennessee has a proven tight end on its roster and plenty of potential at the position. However, there is one key player that the Vols must replace. Auditions are currently being held.
Former Vol Princeton Fant was a do-everything tight end that could catch, block and even play fullback when needed. Now, he’s off to the NFL, which means the Vols have a significant hole to fill.
Senior Jacob Warren decided to return to college for his final season of eligibility. That was fantastic news for the Vols when he made that announcement in January. Warren and Fant rotated series throughout the season. However, Warren ended up playing about 75-percent of the snaps at tight end.
“I started sleeping a lot better,” Tennessee coach Alec Abeln said of Warren’s decision to return for a sixth year. “It changes everything in terms of you knew that you had at least one guy who you could count on to go to war with and, at that point, just trying to find the pieces of who else was going to be there with him. But man, it really made it easier for us.”
Warren caught 12 passes last season for 163 yards last season, but those numbers will almost assuredly rise this season.
Vols TE Jacob Warren previews the start of fall camp
“I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people in space this year, and I think he’s gotten a lot better at that stuff just from a fundamental level,” Abeln said. “He has to continue to get stronger, continue to work on every aspect of his game. The biggest thing to me is just playing with more confidence.”
If the Vols decide to rotate tight ends again this season, transfer McCallan Castles from UC-Davis would be the most likely player to fill in. However, the Vols could decide to lean more on Warren or play more four wide-receiver sets. Much of that will depend on Castles.
“From McCallen’s UC Davis tape you see a playmaker, really athletic,” Abeln said. “You see a guy not afraid to stick his face in it. A guy that’s played in a bunch of different systems and knows football at a base level pretty well.”
Castles seems the most likely tight end to take up Fant’s old snaps. He certainly has the most experience. After that, the Vols have a talented duo of players that probably need some more seasoning before they start dancing in the checkerboards.
Ethan Davis was one of the Vols’ highest-rated prospects when he signed with Tennessee and enrolled in January. Emmanuel Okoye from the NFL Academy in London, England, who is originally from Nigeria, is thought to have incredible upside. The same could be said about Davis. However, Okoye seems to be on another level athletically.
“(Emmanuel) has a chance to be the most athletic guy to play the position,” Abeln said. “I truly believe that. He is as physically gifted as anyone I’ve ever been around. He’s got to continue to make steps every day, but just from a raw athletic standpoint, the ceiling is unlimited.”
Auditions will continue on Friday when the Vols hold their first practice of preseason camp in full pads.