Last Friday, Austin Pope announced his medical retirement from football in an exclusive interview with Trey Wallace of Rocky Top Insider.
Pope, one of the best blocking tight ends in America, was sidelined all of last season with a lower back injury, but he looked poised to return to form after a relatively strong spring before suffering another setback.
“Losing Austin, I think in some ways we're getting close to prepared for that," Offensive Coordinator and tight ends coach Alex Golesh said today. "He missed some time in the spring. I kind of looked at him as a bonus in a lot of ways, being a veteran guy that's played a bunch. So unfortunate, to me more than what it is to our offense or what it is to our room, I hate it for him. And that's not cliche coach talk, that's real. He’s a guy that's really bled orange and white for a very long time. Worked his tail off to get back to being able to play. I don't know another way to put it other than it sucks. It sucks for him. It sucks for our team. He’s battled through a lot of real life adversity with his family and back surgeries and all things you never wish upon anybody. So, I'm happy that he's getting to a better place.
Pope's departure places an emphasis on the development of Miles Campbell and Julian Nixon, which Golesh emphasized today.
“For us as a team, for us as an offense, Jacob (Warren) and Princeton (Fant) have played a bunch of football," Golesh added. "I'm relying on those guys to fill whatever gap Austin was going to fill. We’ve put a lot on Miles Campbell. I know I've very openly spoken about him and his ability to play the game, to understand the game. He's a freshman, and I told coach Heupel, I've never played a freshman at that position. And I've been really fortunate to coach some pretty good ones. So, we'll see, the next three weeks for Miles will be huge, the next three weeks for Julian (Nixon) will be huge, and we'll kind of see. Hunter Salmon has got to step up and play some in there. We'll end up at the end of the day, we'll be alright, we'll play the best 11 guys. We've made it work before, but the hope is that Miles can take the next step in the next three weeks and I'm okay with putting that on him.”
Campbell flashed more than once this spring, as he consistently made strides day after day, and he will look to earn more of a role in the rotation. If the Nixon joins the room and makes strides with Campbell, it is certainly possible the duo find their way onto the field consistently, according to Golesh's comments today.