Vanderbilt hasn't gotten much offensive production from their tight ends in the past two seasons. A talented trio of receivers are hoping to change that in 2013.
Kris Kentera, Dillon van der Wal, and Steven Scheu all had flashes of quality play in 2012, and the Commodores are hoping that another year of experience will help them build on that. Scheu and van der Wal have developed into potential bookends on either side of the line, while Kentera - a reformed quarterback - has emerged to give the 'Dores a H-Back presence and versatile receiver near the line of scrimmage. Vandy will need all three to help raise the profile of a mostly anonymous position in Nashville.
Vanderbilt got only 18 receptions in 13 games from its tight ends last season, and while part of that was thanks to a strong WR and RB corps, it still underscores some very limited production. Austyn Carta-Samuels was responsible for one of those passes in his sole start in 2012, but it was clear that he wasn't actively seeking out his tight ends in a blowout of Presbyterian. If he struggles in his first starting season against SEC defenses, he'll need to rely on his big safety valves more often than the 'Dores have in the past two years.
That means that Kentera, van der Wal, and Scheu should all be working to upgrade the tight end role in James Franklin's offense. They'll be joined by newcomers Mack Weaver, Mitchell Parsons, Nathan Marcus, and Brandon Vandenburg this summer. While it's likely that some of these players will switch positions - Weaver is an interesting defensive line candidate - they'll provide strong depth at the position. Though untested, the 'Dores will have an athletic cache of tight ends to pour through as the season wears on.
Vanderbilt has developed a fertile ground for a tight end prospect to blossom. Can one of the team's young players break through and give the team a versatile weapon on the line? Here's how the Commodore depth chart looks headed into the fall.
The Developing Veterans:
Kris Kentera - Kentera was an underwhelming quarterback prospect, but he's developed into an intriguing tight end because of his versatility and athleticism. He's shown the quickness to get upfield and create space as a target from sideline to sideline. He can line up on the line or in the backfield to give his quarterback an extra target or provide another measure of pass protection. With limited depth amongst the receiving corps, this fall could end up being a breakout year for the redshirt sophomore.
Unfortunately, Kentera was a bit of a let down in 2012. His transition to tight end came slowly, and he was out of place for some key plays last fall. He also some trouble catching the ball, evidenced most clearly against Tennessee when a surefire touchdown turned into an interception when a Jordan Rodgers pass caromed off his hands. Still, these problems can be attributed to the adjustment to his new position, and if Kentera has continued his steady growth as a hybrid tight end then he'll be a valuable weapon for the Commodores in 2013.
Vanderbilt needs a receiver to step up and take some pressure off the Matthews/Boyd tandem at wideout. Kentera has shown flashes of the ability to be that player. He'll have to prove that he can do it consistently - and intelligently - in 2013.
Steven Scheu - Scheu worked his way into the tight end rotation as a redshirt freshman last season, catching eight passes and hauling in a touchdown reception from Austyn Carta-Samuels against Presbyterian. The Indiana native is a thick target (6'5", 255 lbs) who is developing well as a blocker but has yet to prove that he can stretch the field as a receiver. With van der Wal, he provides very steady run support and he can get downfield to seal off blocks when he needs to.
2013 will be a big year in his development. Scheu has decent hands but was overlooked last fall. Fortunately for Scheu's playing prospects, the Vanderbilt tight end position is still in flux. His blocking will get him on the field, but his ability to get open is the key to staying on it.
Dillon van der Wal - van der Wal was the first player in the TE class of 2011 to make an impact, contributing as a true freshman as a blocker in jumbo sets. The 6'6" Californian hasn't caught a pass yet in his college career, but he has the size to be a legitimate end zone threat if his hands can catch up to his blocking ability. He has solid speed for a tight end and should compete for targets alongside Scheu. If he can become a more complete player for the Commodores then he could be a big time player in the SEC.
Brandon Vandenburg - Vandenburg was rated as one of the best junior college players in the country last year, and he'll be the second high profile JuCo player to join the Commodores since quarterback Jordan Rodgers. Despite a plethora of big name offers from across the country, he chose Nashville and could be an immediate contributor for Vanderbilt. He'll immediately be the biggest tight end on the roster, and he proved at the College of the Desert that he has the hands to make an impact at the next level. He doesn't have the measurable athleticism that players like van der Wal and Scheu did as recruits, but he's still slated to wind up in the offensive rotation if he can keep his nose clean.
Nathan Marcus - Like Kris Kentera, Marcus is projected to fill a H-Back role for the 'Dores. He's a long, lean player who could be better served at wideout, but he'll fit into the TE rotation with guys like Scheu and van der Wal handling the heavy blocking duties. He's got good receiving instincts, but he's needs to add more muscle since he lacks the strength to be effective on the line against SEC defenders. If he can stand out as a pass catcher he could get a look as a true freshman, but he seems liable to redshirt in his first year at Vanderbilt.
Mack Weaver - If all goes well, Weaver will ascend to the top of the SEC and allow the Commodores to play Mark Morrison at every home game. The two-way player turned down offers from Tennessee, both Carolinas, Clemson, and Arizona State to play in Nashville. He's thick enough to be effective this fall, but his receiving skills need some polish before he can compete with Scheu and van der Wal. He'll spend some time in the weight room this fall as the Vanderbilt staff discuss whether or not his future is as a pass catcher or on the defensive side of the ball.
Mitchell Parsons - Parsons was a four-star recruit who decommitted from Colorado before leaving his home state to choose Vanderbilt. He's a traditional tight end who brings underrated blocking and an intermediate receiving game to the table. He did several things well in high school, and he'll have to expand on those talents in Nashville. Parsons brings a good combination of size and pass catching to Vanderbilt. If he can prove himself as an effective run blocker as a true freshman, he could compete for snaps this fall.