If you take a look at the Tennessee Vols offensive statistics through the first three games of the season, you’ll likely notice one position that hasn’t produced much.
Over the first three games of the season, Tennessee’s tight ends have combined for three receptions for 25 yards and 0 touchdowns.
That’s not ideal — especially in a Jim Chaney-led offense.
Chaney is known for utilizing tight ends. During the final season of Chaney’s previous stint in Knoxville (2012), tight end Mychal Rivera caught 36 passes for 562 yards and five touchdowns.
In Chaney’s final season as Georgia’s offensive coordinator (2018), tight end Isaac Nauta caught 30 passes for 430 yards and three touchdowns.
It’s obvious that Chaney likes to get tight ends involved in the offense, which means that Tennessee’s lack of production from the position isn’t a scheme issue.
Does that mean it’s a talent issue?
Princeton Fant, Sean Brown, and Jacob Warren are listed as co-starters for the Vols’ matchup against Kentucky on Saturday. Brown has yet to play this season.
It certainly appears that Chaney doesn’t trust the current stable of tight ends, which is why a position switch the Vols made earlier this season is a bit confusing.
True freshman Dee Beckwith sighed with Tennessee as a hybrid tight end/wide receiver. But earlier this offseason Beckwith was moved to running back. That’s a strange move for a player his size (6-foot-5/220 lbs).
When you look at tight ends that are having success in the NFL, it’s mostly athletic players with similar size to Beckwith. A lot of talented tight ends in the NFL have a basketball background, too.
Beckwith fits that exact description.
Here’s what UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt had to say about Beckwith when he signed with Tennessee.
The guy is an unbelievable athlete. I had the opportunity to watch him play a basketball game and you can just see the athleticism all over the basketball court. When you watch him on the football field, his catch radius, his instincts to play the position, his ability to high point the football, his toughness and the fact that he’s a very fluid athlete means that he has a very high ceiling and we’re really excited to have him as a part of our program.
Beckwith has the ideal size and athleticism to be a tight end. And he has the playmaking ability to be a dangerous offensive weapon.
The Vols have quality depth at running back right now — Ty Chandler and Eric Gray are the co-starters, and youngsters Jabari Small and Tee Hodge are already proving their worth. So what’s the point of burying Beckwith on the depth chart?
If Beckwith isn’t ready for the blocking schemes just yet, I get it. Pass protection and run blocking are extremely important. If you can’t block, it’s going to be hard to stay on the field as a tight end (especially with Tenenssee utilizing “jumbo” formations).
But moving Beckwith to running back and not letting him get reps at tight end seems unwise.
I’m sure Pruitt and Chaney have a plan, but for now, it’s hard to understand their end-game with Beckwith.
Tennessee needs more production from the tight end position. Beckwith is tailor-made to play the position. It seems like an obvious choice.
But then again, I’m not the guy with over two decades of coaching experience.
Featured image via Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports/Tennessee Athletic Communications