Tennessee received some big news early in the offseason, learning that veteran tight end Jacob Warren would be returning for another season on Rocky Top. Warren, a local product from Farragut, is actually entering his sixth spring period with the Volunteers, thanks to his use of his COVID year of eligibility.
Warren tag-teamed with Princeton Fant last season, helping to lead Tennessee to their best season in 20 years. Now with Fant gone, Warren felt like his chance to bring continuity back to the offense was important enough for him to stick around. Now a redshirt-super-senior, the six-year vet will provide the offense with some needed leadership while returning to an expanded role as a tight end.
Tennessee has unquestioned momentum rolling right now, coming off an 11-2 season and a Orange Bowl thrashing of Clemson. Warren wants last year’s effort matched, and then some.
“Man, last year is over,” Warren told reporters on Tuesday. “We had a good year last year, a great year last year, understanding that we can’t just show up and have that happen again, right? We’ve got to put the work in. Last year’s team put a lot of work in to get where we were. So, you know, being able to match that, right?”
Statistically, Warren’s return won’t have anyone all that excited. However, he was playing behind Fant for much of the year, and he’s proven his worth as a redzone target through the years. More than that, he’s going to allow Tennessee a veteran presence at an important position. Tight end is difficult, filled with big responsibilities in both the rushing attack and passing game. Simply put, it’s hard to walk in a newcomer or a freshman into that spot and expect a smooth transition.
Warren knows that, and he knows he has a big opportunity to prove himself in his final year.
“I think for me, personally, just a little bit more intentionality,” Warren said of his approach to spring practices. “Kind of in going into each day thinking about, you know, ‘What do I want to get better at today?’ Like, ‘What was bad yesterday?’ Or, ‘What do I need to work on?’ Or, you know, being able to take notes and look at my notes and be like, ‘OK, tomorrow, I’m gonna emphasize getting that extra yard or whatever on third down, or being quick to the tuck whenever I’m catching the ball over the middle.’ Or just anything like that.”
Veteran McCallan Castles gives Tennessee some experienced depth, while Ethan Davis enters the picture as a highly-ranked 4-star talent. Hunter Salmon returns to provide more veteran depth, and Charlie Browder continues to get comfortable in Josh Heupel’s offense.
Part of Warren’s job in his final year is bringing all of those guys along, giving an assist to first time on-field position coach Alec Abeln.
“I’ve seen it a lot, you know what I mean,” Warren said of his sixth spring. “I’m used to the workload that it takes to get through spring ball, so now it’s just a matter of locking in the details of the little things. I think, you know, for everybody else, like for the younger guys, especially, just learning how to not survive, but how to thrive through it, and how to take what it is, right? It’s hard. It’s not easy. We’re waking up early, there’s a lot of meeting time, just being able to process everything and just push through it and just build a little bit of mental toughness.”
Warren and Castles will form a duo similar to that of Warren and Fant last year. Tennessee will miss some versatility with Fant gone, and it will be interesting to see how Heupel and Joey Halzle replace that role. Look for Warren to return to his redzone threat role primarily, where he caught three touchdowns back in 2021. Castles caught 30 passes for 347 yards and two scores for UC Davis last season.
We’ll get our first look at what that position could look like during the Orange and White Game on April 15th.