Meredith a key to tight end 'Darwinism'

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The tight end position is vital for Tennessee's offense, both in the running game and passing attack.

In 2011, Volunteers Mychal Rivera, Brendan Downs and Cameron Clear combined for 33 catches for 382 yards and a touchdown. That production could increase this fall as all three are scheduled to return.

With Tennessee poised to have a full 85-man scholarship roster for the first time under Derek Dooley, competition at several positions should benefit all.

"There's talent on this football team, and we're excited about it," Tennessee tight ends coach Charlie Coiner said on Feb. 8.

The tight end spot is among those and the talent level there increased with the addition of Justin Meredith, who enrolled in mid-January.

In his final interview with InsideTennessee before becoming a student on The Hill, Meredith was clearly excited about getting started and putting high school in the rear view mirror.

"I'm anxious for several reasons," said Meredith, who switched his commitment to the Big Orange from North Carolina on Dec. 10. "I have been wanting to move in for awhile and get that part of my life started. Another thing is to get up there and work with the training staff and get my hamstring built back up."

Meredith, who is roommates with freshman quarterback Nathan Peterman, is fired up about gaining access to the Tennessee Football Training Center, which is on schedule to be finished with its expansion late this summer.

"It's awesome," he said. "I'll be in the first class to go all four years through that. It's unbelievable. I took a walk-through when I went on my official (visit), but there was just a bunch of concrete."

In December, Meredith took part in the 75th Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas briefly before a hamstring injury flared up.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder gave his leg some rest and looked to be healthy enough to take part in the practices and games of Under Armour All-American week in Florida. However, in one of the first practices in Lake Buena Vista, the hamstring reared its ugly head and Meredith's involvement was constrained the rest of the week.

The Anderson, S.C., native did what he could when the lights came on at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and participated in a pair of series (about six snaps) before a player fell on him from behind on a stretch play to the Meredith's side. The hammy forced him out for the rest of the game.

"I hate to say this but I was kind of waiting for it to happen. I'm just glad I got to play that much. It was mostly run blocking," said Meredith, who grew closest in Florida to fellow All-Americans Joe Bolden and Jay Guillermo.

"At least I got to go out there for some plays and not have to sit on the sideline the whole time."

Having dealt with the injury last spring, he expects it to take a month to figure out. Between it being a strain instead of a tear along with the constant care of Tennessee director of sports medicine Jason McVeigh and his staff, Meredith should be a full-go when spring practice gets underway on March 26.

At that time Meredith, who will wear No. 82, will get the opportunity to learn offensive coordinator Jim Chaney's scheme in run blocking, pass blocking and route running.

Whether the freshman will work his way into the rotation or redshirt his first season remains to be seen. Either way, his addition should push redshirt senior Rivera and rising sophomores Clear and Downs.

With opposing defenses likely to game plan to slow down the Vol wide receiver corps that includes Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and All-SEC selection Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee quarterbacks could see tight ends open often between the hashes.

Look for more on Meredith (right) and other Vol signees like Alton 'Pig' Howard in the next edition of Rocky Top News magazine.

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