Tennessee’s passing game was once defined by Bru, Jalin and Ramel. Now, the Vols’ air attack is more akin to Jacob and McCallan.
Despite losing Princeton Fant to the NFL, Tennessee’s production at tight end hasn’t lost steam. Returning senior Jacob Warren and McCallan Castles have caught a combined 20 passes this season for 211 yards and five touchdowns. Castles has 11 grabs for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Warren has caught nine passes for 75 yards and three touchdowns.
“I think it’s just pushing each other in practice,” Castles said. “We get a lot of work with the quarterbacks, but not as much as the wide receivers, so we make the most out of all those opportunities that we get. That way when you get that chance in the game you end up making the play.
“I think it’s just me and Jacob both push each other and we both talk about everything and watch film together. Kind of just eyeing out all those details together.”
The two have become close on an off the field the field, with Warren taking Castles under his wing. Warren could have been selfish and not helped a player who could be perceived as competition. That’s a very good thing for the Vols who have had to replace former receiver Jalin Hyatt, who is currently with the New York Giants, and Bru McCoy, who suffered a season-ending leg injury earlier this season. The Vols still have Ramel Keyton, but clearly the offensive production at receiver has waned. That has made it that much more important for Castles and Warren to be productive.
Castles’ production this season has been a welcome addition since he transferred to Tennessee from UC-Davis. Of all the Vols’ transfers this season, he has had as much of an impact as anyone. The Vols like to alternate tight ends so Castles is in some ways a starter as he and Warren often are interchanged from drive to drive. Once the ball is snapped, whoever is in the game at tight end has to do his job because Tennessee’s up-tempo attack doesn’t allow for substitutions.
There is certainly a reason that UT’s tight ends have been more productive. Understandably, defenses were worried about deep routes after the Vols put up one of the most explosive offenses in the nation last season. Now, the deep dash has been replaced by the dink-and-dunk. While deep routes ruled the day last season, the Vols have benefitted more from intermediate routes this season. However, there’s more benefit than just the statistical production. Tennessee’s tight ends can also make quarterback Joe Milton III much more comfortable.
It’s been well publicized that Milton has a strong arm, but it’s also been apparent that he’s struggled at times with either the speed of the game or his accuracy. Tennessee’s tight ends have made Milton’s life a bit easier with easier throws to bigger targets.
The Vols haven’t hit on all their transfers in a much ballyhooed incoming class of current college players. Most notably, receiver Dont’e Thornton hasn’t had nearly the impact at receiver that Tennessee’s fans were hoping for, with just seven catches for 89 yards. Perhaps Thornton will improve with time. However, Castles clearly came ready to play and that’s kept Tennessee’s offense moving.