Tennessee football position preview: Vols will have more options at tight end in 2014

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The fifth in a series of position-by-position reviews of the Tennessee football team with an eye toward the start of spring practice in March.

Tight end Brendan Downs (KNS photo by Adam Brimer)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — By the end of the season, Tennessee’s second-string tight end was a recently converted quarterback.

That former quarterback, walk-on Joe Stocstill, was one of the pleasant surprises of 2013. Even so, coaches have no desire to repeat the scenario in 2014.

Two highly regarded freshman tight ends will enroll next week, which should give offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian some more flexibility this spring.

Everyone on the current roster except for Joseph Ayres will be back in 2014. Ayres suffered a career-ending ACL injury early in the year. He could have been a valuable reserve if he had stayed healthy.

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Brendan Downs was a versatile workhorse, playing a traditional tight end role, H-back and sometimes even a receiver split wide. He caught 12 passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns, but Bajakian would love to see more production out of that role.

The Vols eased A.J. Branisel into action during his freshman year. He was often paired with Downs in two-tight end sets.

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The Vols took a flyer on converted volleyball player Woody Quinn last February. If he’s still on the roster this summer, he will be in a reserve role.

Walk-on Alex Ellis might have contributed if he had been healthy.

That was a common theme in 2013. Even Branisel wasn’t immune. He tore his ACL just before the end of the year. He’ll miss spring football with the goal of being ready in August. But even that isn’t a sure thing.

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That’s why newcomers Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf are so important. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which they won’t play — and perhaps play a lot — in 2014.

One more name to keep in mind is Neiko Creamer. He’s listed as a receiver for now, but has the size to move into a tight end role.

Another big receiver who experimented at tight end a year ago, Jason Croom, is staying put. Coaches were encouraged by his progress at receiver and have no plans to move him to tight end.

A note on this series: As National Signing Day approaches, we’ll review each of Tennessee’s positions with an eye toward spring football in 2014. I’ll update the spreadsheets as players commit, sign, enroll or leave. Click on the links for previews of the offensive linerunning backsreceivers and quarterbacks.

A note on the statistics: The snap count shown in the first graphic includes only offensive snaps. It does not count special teams. The statistics are unofficial and come from our snap-by-snap database. “YPP” is yards per play, or simply the number of yards Tennessee gained while the player was on the field, divided by the player’s total snaps. “Adjusted YPP” adjusts the average for various factors, including game, situation, formation, down, distance and position. “Impact factor” is the degree to which a player’s YPP outperformed the average YPP for a player in a similar situation. A factor of 100 is average; above that is better, lower is worse. You should view Adjusted YPP and Impact Factor as “interesting” stats and not necessarily relevant ones. Someone who plays every snap will, by definition, have an Impact Factor of 100. On the other end, the small sample size of many reserves means just one or two plays can significantly shift their score.