Neiko Creamer was a second-team all-state wide receiver in Maryland who signed with the Vols as an athlete and received plenty of reps at linebacker before moving to tight end.
The 6-foot-3, 233-pound redshirt freshman has been Tennessee’s version of the utility infielder since he arrived on campus last year. Butch Jones searched for the perfect fit for Creamer, whose big body and soft hands translate well to the tight end position. His departure from linebacker partially unclogged a talented unit and moved Creamer to a position that fits well with his wide receiver skills.
“You certainly see the potential and down-the-road upside that he brings to the position,” special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Mark Elder said. “I’m encouraged with the promise there, but obviously it’s a long way as far as the growth process and where he needs to get to be game ready. That’s what spring’s all about, is getting ready and taking steps to get toward that.”
Creamer was able to take advantage of the numerous reps he got in spring practice to begin his position transformation in a positive way. Playing behind guys like Ethan Wolf, Alex Ellis and A.J. Branisel benefits Creamer, who’s able to learn from players who played tight end for longer than a couple of months. The talent ahead of him also takes away the added pressure of having to quickly learn the spot because the team needs a void filled.
“He’s doing a good job as far as getting better. It’s still a process with him, but you can see improvements in his game. You see the skillset that he has,” Elder said.
“Not necessarily that he’s moving up above anybody else, but we’re rotating guys in, getting the right combination of people and so forth. We’re trying to have all those guys take reps with the ones at time and the twos at time.”
Learning the nuances of the tight end position is an adjustment for the former Eastern Christian Academy star. Going from a skill position to one that is much more bruising can be an especially tough task, even for someone as physical as Creamer.
“It’s taking a guy that’s never lined up at the tight end position and asking him to be able to base block and run rip cutoffs against the defensive end,” Elder said. “That’s not an easy task for someone that’s been doing it a long time, let alone someone that this is their first time ever doing it.”
But the potential is obvious. Creamer’s versatility and athleticism have opened coaches’ eyes since he got on campus last year, and most of them believe it’s only a matter of time before he starts contributing positively to the tight end rotation.
“Neiko is a very, very good athlete. He’s a big body young man that can run,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “We knew when we recruited him we liked him so much because he was a multi-positional player.”