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Jeremy Pruitt rules out Austin Pope, talks other options

A total unknown.

NCAA Football: Gator Bowl-Indiana vs Tennessee Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Quietly, perhaps the biggest unknown on the Tennessee roster is the tight end position. Dominick Wood-Anderson wasn’t flashy for the Volunteers over the last two seasons, but he handled a lot of snaps. Who is going to handle those vacated snaps remains a mystery — even more so now with the injury situation of Austin Pope.

Pope, the only tight end on the roster with experience and a big part of Tennessee’s run blocking, is dealing with a back injury. He’s back on the practice field, but according to Jeremy Pruitt, he’s not quite ready to play.

“Austin is not going to play right now,” Pruitt announced to the media on Thursday. “We are working Princeton Fant, Sean Brown, Jordan Allen, Jacob Warren. We have a lot of guys that are getting reps in there. Most of those guys have played very little football for us.”

Jackson Lowe was also a part of this battle during camp, but entered the transfer portal this week.

For Fant, Brown, Allen and Warren, none have any playing experience at the tight end position. Fant and Allen previously played different positions, while Warren and Brown have been buried on the depth chart.

The tight end position is one of the more complicated spots on the roster because of heavy involvement with the running game and passing game. Without anything proven, this could be a real wildcard for the entire offense to start the season.

“They have to work on their consistency,” Pruitt said. “They have to be able to block in the C-area. They have to play fast. They have to be good communicators. That is one position you really need to be instinctive, to have a feel. We ask the tight ends to do a lot. It is a position where there is lots of competition. I have confidence in all of those guys. Somebody has to separate themselves.”

Brown and Warren signed with Tennessee as three-star prospects. Fant signed as a receiver, and Allen signed as an outside linebacker. The position is a total unknown, and the group is now down to a matter of days to figure out a pecking order. Surely the staff has some sort of idea on that, but they’re not saying anything just yet.

Expect the first official depth chart to come out next week.