For decades it's been the age old question, are the coaches going to use the tight end. With a head coach who has coached tight ends in college and in the NFL, with an offensive coordinator who has coached tight ends in the NFL and with three talented tight ends on the roster, the answer appears to be and should be yes.
[rl]With receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers along with a corp of newcomers this August, the tight ends might be overlooked by some. For the Vol coaches if it's defenses that overlook them that's fine by them as they feel they have weapons at the positon that give defenses plenty of problems. In our continuing position breakdown of the team we look at the tight ends/h-backs/fullbacks.
Mychal Rivera - The senior had a really nice 2011 junior season. Rivera had 29 catches and really had an early season connection with quarterback Tyler Bray. In fact of the 29 catches, 21 came from Bray in 6 games. This spring Rivera's focus was again on being a complete tight end and not just a pass catching tight end. Rivera is never going to be confused for a road grader blocker, but the California native is playing more physical than he ever has and that is something he must build on this summer.
Cameron Clear - While everyone has waited for the Memphis native to grow into a defensive lineman or an offensive tackle, Clear has continued to remain a tight end and has shown the potential to be an effective player at the position. Clear has soft hands and his size can cause match-up problems. The sophomore must continue to improve his consistency. At times in the spring he didn't use his size to his advantage both as a receiver and a blocker. Clear must continue to play more physical down in and down out. He has plenty of talent and came on late last year playing more and more snaps. He just needs to make a step in consistency as a sophomore.
Brendan Downs - A three star prospect, who the Vols beat out Duke for, that arrived with little fanfare, but had a surprising productive freshman year and is firmly in the rotation at tight end. Downs finished his freshman year with 3 catches highlighted by 2 for 32 yards against Cincinnati. Downs hit a bit of the freshman wall and was not a factor the last three games of the season. This spring Downs made strides in playing more physical. At 250 pounds getting stronger has been a priority for Downs since he arrived on campus in January of 2011. As Tennessee heads into the summer, getting stronger remains the priority. Downs has shown a nice knack for being able to get open and has shown nice hands. He has to make strides as a blocker and to do that he must get stronger so that he can play more physical.
Justin Meredith - The true freshman arrived in Knoxville in January with a nagging hamstring injury that shelved him for basically all of spring practice. It's hard to say where Meredith is skill wise because there was just on spring "data" on him. Meredith's first priority this summer is to get his hamstring healthy. Meredith has been battling the hamstring injury since last November.
Ben Bartholomew- Old man Ben was written off last summer as a non-factor. In fact, some people thought he might not even play last season. Heading into last season, Bartholomew had played a in 7 games in three years as a Vol. Last season, he started 7 games and played in all 12 contest. Bartholomew finished the year with 6 catches for 54 yards and enters 2012 as the Vols only fullback. Bartholomew can also play tight end and h-back and the tight ends can play h-back and fullback as the positions are somewhat interchangeable. For Bartholomew, the summer is about getting more athletic and trying to get quicker. It's also important that the senior prepares himself for the physical grind of the SEC being he's the only scholarship fullback on the roster.
All summer long, the chatter is going to be about the Vols vertical passing game with Rogers, Hunter and the expected arrival of Cordarrelle Patterson, but for quarterback Tyler Bray the tight end position and the talent there can provide him with one of the best security blankets for any quarterback anywhere.