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Tennessee’s depth at tight end growing for Vols

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Holden Staes didn’t show up at Tennessee on a lark. He did his research.

As a transfer from Notre Dame, Staes had options when he entered the transfer portal. The 6-foot-4, 242-pounder was rated the No. 1 overall tight end in the portal and the No. 16 overall prospect in the class.

Some big differences are coming from Notre Dame,” Staes said when asked about the different between Notre Dame and Tennessee, specifically on offense. “There was a lot of 12 personnel, a lot of huddling and a slower-pace offense for sure. We ran the ball a lot. At Tennessee, we run the ball a lot as well, but it’s a different scheme for sure. 

“Coming to Tennessee, it’s a tempo offense that plays in space a lot more with wide splits. I’ve been adapting well, putting my head down and working on trying to figure everything out. Taking what I learn in the meeting room with Coach (Alec) Abeln to the field and transitioning that way. So far it’s been pretty good. There have been ups and downs, but that’s expected with the transition, but I think I’ve been handling it well so far.”

Staes’ services are in need. The Vols lost their top two tight ends, Jacob Warren and McCallan Castles, who are out of eligibility with Tennessee. That makes spring practice as important for the Vols’ tight ends as any other position.

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“I would say I’m progressing well,” Staes said. “Each day I’ve tried to improve on something, whether that’s lining up faster, processing the signals faster or knowing my read immediately when the ball gets snapped quickly. Coming from Notre Dame, we would huddle and have time to diagnose the defense before the ball gets snapped. Here, we get the signal and the play is happening immediately. 

“Overall, I think I’ve been progressing well. Through the end of spring ball, I just want to keep my head down, get better day in and day out and not look too far ahead. Using these last few practices, I just want to finish the right way and go into the summer. Overall, I’m feeling comfortable.”

Staes didn’t just choose the Vols for no reason. He did his research before showing up on campus, including boning up on head coach Josh Heupel, offensive coordinator Joey Halzle and tight end coach Alec Abeln.

“I did a lot of research on Coach Heupel, Coach Halzle and Coach Abeln,” Staes said. “They were a big part of my decision. They showcased the tight end and what they can do for this offense. A big piece in their recruitment to me was having a guy that can eat up space with the splits that we play in, getting in those windows, getting the ball in my hands and then using all of that grass to make plays. 

“I think that was something that was really intriguing to me and one of the reasons that led to me coming here. I’ve been getting comfortable in the offense, finding my rhythm through it and going to make plays when fall comes.”

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