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Vanderbilt uses its tight ends a lot, or so they say

While the Commodores have questions at wide receiver, tight end is a different matter.

NCAA Football: Alabama A&M at Vanderbilt Andrew Nelles -USA TODAY Sports

The other day, we noted that Vanderbilt has a lot of question marks at wide receiver. But that isn’t really the case at tight end. Like it’s been since Derek Mason took over as head coach in 2014, Vanderbilt used its tight ends frequently in the passing game last season, with three different tight ends combining to catch 37 passes for 426 yards and four touchdowns.

Two of those three tight ends return in 2018. So, too, do two reserves who didn’t catch any passes in 2017. A third returnee is a converted offensive tackle to function as the blocking tight end in jumbo sets. And two talented freshmen join the mix in 2018. This projects to be one of Vanderbilt’s most talented position groups.

The Starter

Jared Pinkney, redshirt junior: Pinkney was Vanderbilt’s starting tight end as a sophomore and will likely be the team’s primary TE again after catching 22 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns. At 6’4” and 255 pounds, Pinkney’s a potential pro if he can get better as a blocker. As it stands, he offers the best combination of blocking and receiving skills on the roster.

The Film-Maker

Sam Dobbs, senior: Dobbs played in all 12 games last season and started one. He caught eight passes for 79 yards, and also had three rushing attempts for 37 yards. When on the field, Dobbs functions as much as an extra wide receiver as a tight end.

The Blockers

Braden Kopp, redshirt sophomore: Kopp came in as an offensive tackle prospect, but has since converted to a blocking tight end, apparently in spring 2017 (though Vanderbilt is only now listing him on the roster as a tight end.) At 6’5” and 275 pounds, Kopp figures to be mostly used as an extra blocker in jumbo sets.

Cody Markel, redshirt sophomore: Markel came in as a preferred walk-on but saw playing time in ten games last season, mostly on special teams though he did get one start against Ole Miss in a two-TE set. Like Kopp, he’s a bigger tight end who probably won’t be too involved in the passing game.

The Prospects

Turner Cockrell, redshirt sophomore: I’m not sure what to think of Cockrell, who hasn’t seen the field in two years at Vanderbilt and is still listed at 230 pounds on the roster. The latter fact might explain the former: Cockrell isn’t big enough to be a factor as a blocker and while he has good skills as a receiver, he’s probably not as good at that as Sam Dobbs — and now has two more similar players coming in behind him.

Ben Bresnahan, freshman: At 6’4” and 235 pounds, Bresnahan caught six TD passes as a high school senior and had 742 receiving yards, and he also had four rushing TDs. I would really like to know how his high school team used him, because it sounds effective. Bresnahan is another talented true freshman who could find his way into the field in 2018.

Gavin Schoenwald, freshman: Of the three Brentwood Acsdemy players landed by Vanderbilt football and men’s basketball in 2018, Schoenwald is probably the least consequential — which says a lot more about Darius Garland and Cam Johnson than about him. The 6’4”, 235-pound Schoenwald played QB for Brentwood Academy’s state title team last year and is a good enough athlete to make an immediate impact at tight end.