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Transfers and a talented freshman have Tennessee Vols stacked at TE

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One of Tennessee’s most stable positions has suddenly become a big question mark for the Vols.

Heading into Josh Heupel’s fourth season as Tennessee’s head coach, the Vols have benefitted from the fruit of some key players at the Vols’ tight end position. Tennessee had Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren to rely on in 2022 and rode with Warren and transfer McCallan Castles last season

That was a lot. Warren and Castles combined for 38 catches for 474 yards and nine touchdowns last season. So far, the reviews on the new Tennessee tight ends: Holden Staes from Notre Dame and Miles Kitselman from Alabama are keeping up with their predecessors.

“I don’t want to crown them too early, but they’re doing a really good job,” Tennessee tight ends coach Alec Abeln said following practice on Wednesday. “McCallan (Castles) was probably on the curve that most guys are on where it’s a spring of trying to learn how to operate. There’s a lot going on, and it’s happening very fast. Without getting their egos too inflated, the two new guys (Staes and Kitselman) have come in, are really ahead of schedule in terms of where I thought they would be in the ability to line up, process and play. We probably put more on their plates because of their ability to learn so fast.”

Staes played two seasons with the Irish before transferring to Tennessee. He caught 15 passes for 176 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore last fall. Kitselman played in 19 games for the Crimson Tide after spending the 2021 season at Hutchinson Community College.

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The Vols are also set to debut Ethan Davis, the highly regarded tight end who played in a reduced role last season. He, however, is thought to be the most gifted player of any among the Vols’ tight ends, especially since he’s up from 225 pounds where he played last season as a freshman.

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“This spring, he’s done such a great job,” Abeln said of Davis. “One, getting his body right. I think he was 242 last week, and he’s so comfortable now with where to be and what to do. There’s still a detail in everything that he has to continue to clean up, but I’ve told him this, he’s going to be an elite player in the core. He has so much twitch, pop. He’s not scared of anything.”

While Davis is clearly the future at the position, the here and now comes down to the two transfers: Staes and Kitselman.

“I’m really excited about Miles,” Abeln said. “All that guy does is work. We knew he’d stick his face on people. We knew he’d be physical. I think what he’s done in space has been not necessarily a surprise but really pleasant. He’s done a really good job for us and just works his butt off every day. Having two guys come in that are both everything you want has been really cool.”

When asked about Staes, Abeln said, “On the tape, you saw a guy that made a bunch of plays. A guy that played really fast, has elite hands, understands space. I think as we do a little bit different stuff in the scheme side of it, both run and pass, he’s learning and adjusting to that. 

“But he’s done a great job as far as just the raw speed, the hands, ability to make plays in space. He’s been everything we saw on tape.”

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