Spring Breakdown: Tight Ends

InsideTennessee brings you a 10-part series of position battles heading into spring practice. Be sure to come back to InsideTennessee for all your Volunteer athletics information .

Tennessee Volunteers football coach Derek Dooley has preached competition or "Darwinism" since the moment he stepped on campus.

When the Vols open spring practice on March 26, they will do so with the most competition the program has been able to enjoy since Dooley's arrival.

One position to keep an eye on is tight end, where the group has grown from an inexperienced trio to a group of four talented athletes most of whom bring experience to the table.

The undisputed frontrunner to be sprinting down the seams this fall has to be redshirt senior Mychal Rivera after a productive 2011 season. Rivera was the Vols' second leading receiver last season behind Da'Rick Rogers.

Tennessee tight end Brendan Downs
The 6-foot-3, 254-pounder finished 21st among all tight ends in NCAA in receptions (3rd in SEC) and 19th in receiving yards (3rd in SEC).

The former College of Canyons standout was named to the John Mackey Award Midseason Watch List. With 12 starts under his belt it will be hard to knock off Rivera, but a host of big men will be nipping at his heels.

Adding to the competition will be two true sophomores in 6-foot-5, 237-pound Brendan Downs and 6-foot-6, 265-pound Cam Clear. Both in-state products were able to enter the lineup as true freshmen playing in a combined 20 games, including three starts.

Downs was able to reel in 34 yards on just three receptions, while Clear only snagged one football for 4 yards, mostly providing a solid blocking option in two-tight-end sets.

With tight ends being Dooley's specialty and one of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney's favorite weapons, both have to be salivating at the talent and experience level heading into 2012. A position group that has been excruciatingly thin since the departure of now Tampa Bay Buccaneer tight end Luke Stocker.

Now take all of the above and add in to the mix a talented high school prospect with several months in a college weight program preparing for his first spring practice. For example, 6-foot-5, 225-pound tight end Justin Meredith will bring a little young spice to the battle.

Meredith, a three-star prospect (No. 17 overall tight end) according to Scout.com, has been on campus for nearly three months now and brings size and speed to the table.

The T.L. Hanna (S.C.) High School standout played in the Under Armour All-American game and added a monster statistical year as a junior pulling in 24 receptions for 600 yards and three touchdowns.

Stay tuned for continuing editions of the "Spring Breakdown" as spring football looms closer and closer.

Justin Meredith

Chris Price is a staff writer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously an intern for the site for two years before graduating from the University of Tennessee. He joined the InsideTennessee team in 2009.

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