Vols coaches 'loving' new tight end toys

InsideTennessee keeps you on top of all the latest news coming out of Tennessee's spring practices. Scroll down to read a notebook filled with the biggest headlines from Thursday.

Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni has one word for how he feels about the additions of Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm.

"Jackpot," he said.

Azzanni and Tennessee coaches knew the potential each of the talented tight ends possessed while recruiting them, but it's safe to say they have surpassed already high expectations during the first few spring practices.

"I'm excited about them. Those guys both bring a level of athleticism that you want at the tight end position," Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian told InsideTennessee. "They adjust to the ball. They have good hands. But I knew that."

As did most everyone who followed their recruitment.

Helm and Wolf, both former Scout four-stars, were highly praised for their body control and route running skills.

What Bajakian didn't expect from the talented tandem was a willingness to play physical so early into their college careers.

"They'll stick their face in the fan," Bajakian said.

That rare combination of pass-catching ability and solid blocking skills has Tennessee offensive coaches giddy.

Azzanni explained why by providing an example from Thursday's practice.

During full-team work, a slot receiver had to come off the field unexpectedly. Out came one of the young tight ends to replace him split out wide.

"I helps from a depth standpoint, I can tell you that," Azzanni told IT. "We just put those tight ends in there that can run routes. We put them all over the place. It's awesome. They're fun."

Helm and Wolf's ability to line up in several different spots also provides Tennessee with versatility it lacked last fall.

And that versatility, Azzanni says, will help the Vols "greatly" improve their tempo this fall.

"They really help just how we change personnel," Azzanni said. "One play we're running the ball with an attached tight end and the next he's split out and we're spreading them. You can't do that with a slot guy all the time. They're going to do big things here."

While Bajakian shares Azzanni's optimism about the newcomers, saying "both of those guys are going to be outstanding players," he also warns that they're still "very inexperienced."

But both are being force fed experience in a hurry.

With veteran tight ends Brendan Downs and A.J. Branisel sidelined this spring because of injuries, Helm and Downs are seeing more than their fair share of important reps.

"Those reps are invaluable," Bajakian told IT." Absolutely invaluable."

Pair the duo's large helping of experience this spring with their "smarts," and Bajakian stops just short of saying Helm and Wolf are the perfect tight ends.

"Those guys are very smart guys and approach the game the way you want," Bajakian said. "…They have all you can really ask for."

<A HREF=//tennessee.scout.com/a.z?s=7&p=8&c=1&nid=7550520><A HREF=//tennessee.scout.com/a.z?s=7&p=8&c=1&nid=7550518><A HREF=//tennessee.scout.com/a.z?s=7&p=8&c=1&nid=7550508>A.J. Branisel</A></A></A>
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Getting in extra work

As each spring practice comes to an end and Tennessee players trickle out of the facility, there's a usual group that sticks around getting extra work in on their own.

Seeing Corey Vereen doing extra stretching and ab work, Jordan Williams training with an agility ladder and Danny O'Brien roaming an empty weight room have all become familiar sites.

All are defensive linemen, the group tasked with replacing all the starter's from last year's squad.

Don't forget about Devrin

Highly-recruited newcomer Jalen Hurd and rising senior Marlin Lane gives the Vols a potentially impressive one-two punch at the running back position next fall, but Robert Gillespie will tell you most overlook a third element of the rushing attack.

Gillespie said he's been very pleased with the production of Devrin Young this spring. Young is transitioning back to running back after playing slot receiver last fall.

"(Devrin) will allow us to do some things that we couldn't do last year with Rajion and Marlin," Gillespie said.

QB update

Tennessee's search to find its starting quarterback is far from over.

Bajakian said it's a possibility that there's "zero" separation in the competition after spring practice, adding that each quarterback has "flashed" at times but no one has shown consistency.

"There's not a ton of separation in their skillsets," Bajakian said. "It's not like one is a phenomenal athlete and one is a great passer. They're all good passers and they're all good athletes."

Malone gaining more momentum

After being singled out by head coach Butch Jones Tuesday for sticking out amongst the newcomers, wideout Josh Malone received more praise Thursday.

Bajakian said Malone needed time to adjust to the speed of practice and to get in "college" shape.

"Now that he's done that, he improves every day," Bajakian said.


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Mike Bajakian, per university

John Jancek, per university


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