There are several unknowns on the Tennessee football roster entering the 2021 season. One of those is the tight end position, which the Volunteers got virtually nothing from during the 2020 campaign. Austin Pope’s sudden back injury in the late summer threw a wrench into things as Tennessee was forced to move to a backup plan.
Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren split duties at tight end, neither of which making a big impact. Together, that duo caught just 18 passes last season. Both return to the program this year, but now they’ll operate in Josh Heupel’s high-octane offensive attack.
It’s a chance to start fresh, and the race for playing time is wide open.
“The clean slate is their biggest thing right now,” Jacob Warren said during player availability on Friday. “So we’re going in with no one’s ahead of anybody. We’re all just trying to compete and get better, because setting that standard or setting that bar at the very beginning is just limiting to a lot of the guys that might not be the one or the two. I think they’ve done a great job of coming in and just saying, ‘Look guys, obviously we’ve watched you, we’ve seen who’s played and who hasn’t played, but seriously don’t worry about that.’ We’re all just here to compete and try to get to where we all want to go at the end of the day.”
Warren flashed against Texas A&M in the final game of the Jeremy Pruitt era, hauling in a touchdown on a wheel route down the sideline. The 6-6, 250 pounder is a former high school receiver, who was asked to bulk up to play in the more traditional offense under Pruitt. With Heupel now it place, Warren becomes an interesting potential piece of the puzzle as a guy that can create mismatches.
For reference, a guy similar in size, Albert Okwuegbunam, caught 11 touchdowns in Josh Heupel’s 2017 offense at Missouri, playing with Drew Lock.
“I think that’s always a tight end’s biggest goal, is to catch more balls,” Warren said, “but at this point it’s really just a matter of whatever I can do to help the offense, honestly. Whether that’s catch balls, whether that’s block, a little bit of both, I know, like I said earlier, we’ve got dudes in the tight end room that can do it all. Whoever’s out there making plays, as long as we’re making plays, that’s all I really care about, to be honest.”
Warren will be fighting for playing time against Fant, along with Pope who is set to return for a final season. Following the exits of Jackson Lowe and Sean Brown, freshman Miles Campbell could also become a factor in this battle.