Pruitt: Vols Starting TE 'Probably Won't Play This Year," Updates Depth at Position

Matthew Ray

Austin Pope announced over the summer that he had undergone back surgery, and he was going to miss time for the injury. Once the falls returned to fall camp, after the third practice, Pruitt said, "He's been out there every day. He continues to improve and if he continues to improve like he has the last five weeks, he should be ready to play for the opener."

Pruitt noted earlier in the week that Pope would likely not participate in this weeks game, but he left it open for an opportunity further down the line.

It now appears that won't be the case, and it seems unlikely Tennessee fans will see Pope this year after he started in 11 of 13 contests last fall. 

Tonight, during Vol Calls, hosted by Bob Kesling and Brent Hubbs, Pruitt said, "The tight ends, Austin Pope is not going to be ready to play and probably won't play this year. He is still rehabbing and we will see where that goes beyond this year."

Pruitt went onto say that Jacob Warren, Sean Brown, Princeton Fant, and Jordan Allen were "all competing" at the position.

It will likely be a game-time decision for who starts at the position in Week One. Earlier this week, Pruitt said, "There's still three or four guys that we're working there. We'll see. We'll obviously settle on somebody for the game. That's going to be a position that we're continuing to challenge and create competition. That's a good thing because we've got competition there. The guys continue to push each other."

Tennessee also lost Jackson Lowe to transfer earlier this month, and it leaves the Vols with four scholarship tight ends at the position. At times last season, Tennessee utilized two tight end sets, but it seems unlikely that Vols fans will see that from Jim Chaney this fall.

At the end of August, Chaney told reporters:

"Well Austin (Pope) is that, he's a stabilizing force. He's a good kid, been around football a long time. We like what he brings to the table. He will always be that consistent kid that we like. Behind him, we have Princeton Fant, who is a young man who bounced around a lot early in his career. We feel real comfortable where we have him right now doing what he needs to be doing. Jacob Warren is doing a fine job. There is a lot of competition in the room. They all have a little different skill set it seems like, it's interesting to me. Behind him you have Jordan Allen and you got Sean Brown. You got some other guys that are just mixing around. There's a lot of competition there, waiting on someone to jump above the other ones and emerge as a solid football player. They're just continually learning. You're talking about guys that haven't played a lot of football for us in those five. That is a position that we are trying to force feed real fast on development and we are doing it, hopefully, through competition."

The Vols will kickoff the season on Saturday night against South Carolina at 7:30 ET.

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