The Tennessee Vols received some bad news last week when senior tight end Austin Pope announced via Twitter that he had a second surgery on his back.
Tough times don’t last, tough people do. pic.twitter.com/2ixcqeJYYo
— Austin Pope (@Austin_Pope31) July 16, 2020
It’s unclear how much time Pope will miss, but it will likely be an extended absence for the former three-star recruit from Knoxville.
Pope was expected to be the Vols’ starting tight end in 2020. He hasn’t filled up many stat sheets, but Pope’s been an important player for Tennessee over the last couple of seasons — mainly due to his role as a blocker.
Tennessee will certainly miss Pope’s blocking abilities (he was often the lead blocker on running plays). But without Pope on the field, it will force offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to use UT’s tight ends a bit differently in 2020. And it could mean a huge opportunity for a true freshman.
Chaney probably won’t just plug in another tight end into Pope’s role. That’s because there isn’t another tight end on the roster that blocks at the same level as Pope.
So if the Vols aren’t using their tight ends to block as much, it seems likely that they’d been more involved in the passing game.
That’s where true freshman Damarcus Beckwith enters the picture.
Beckwith, 6-foot-4/215 lbs from Florence, AL, signed with the Vols as a three-star recruit during the 2020 recruiting cycle.
The Alabama native has plenty of athleticism, playing basketball and running track in high school. Beckwith has been penciled in as a wide receiver, but he’s more of a hybrid type wide receiver/tight end (similar to 2020 five-star athlete Arik Gilbert, who signed with LSU).
If the Vols are going to use their tight ends differently due to the absence of Pope, then it could mean there’s a big opportunity for Chaney to get creative with Beckwith.
A 6-foot-4 hybrid tight end with speed and athleticism could create some massive mismatches for the Tennessee this fall. Beckwith probably won’t be asked to do much blocking, which is why this is a role that could work for him as a true freshman.
The Vols have previously had to rely on their tight ends to block because of deficiencies on the offensive line. But in 2020, Tennessee is expected to have one of the best offensive lines in the SEC, which could open up the playbook a bit.
Losing Pope certainly hurts the Vols’ depth and on-field product, but it will allow other players to have a chance to step up in a big way.
And Beckwith is one of those players.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports/247Sports