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2019 Vanderbilt Football Position Preview: Tight End

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This unit looks much, much better with Jared Pinkney returning.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The tight end was a staple of the Stanford offense that Derek Mason essentially adapted when he took the Vanderbilt head coaching job, and it’s been a staple of the Vanderbilt offense as well. But that might have something to do with who has been at the position.

In Mason’s five years at Vanderbilt, the tight ends have caught 233 passes; in Mason’s first year (2014), a tight end was the team’s leading pass catcher. (Which, uh, probably said more about the 2014 offense than it did about Steven Scheu, but still.) In James Franklin’s three seasons, tight ends caught 68 passes, or just 18 more than Jared Pinkney caught last season.

Had Pinkney gone to the NFL, this post would be about whether Vanderbilt would continue to utilize a rather unproven group of tight ends when the offense has so many other weapons available. But instead, Pinkney decided to return for a chance to beat Tennessee for a fourth time instead of being something like a fourth-round pick in the NFL Draft, giving Vanderbilt an additional proven offensive weapon.

The Starter

Jared Pinkney, redshirt senior: Street & Smith’s and The Sporting News have tabbed Pinkney as a first-team All-American in the preseason, and he’s been named to the preseason watch lists for both the Mackey Award and the Biletnikoff Award. And why wouldn’t he be, after the 6’4”, 260-pound senior caught 50 passes for 774 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018? His return is huge for Vanderbilt and turns this position from a possible question mark to a sure thing.

The Blockers

Cody Markel, “senior”: The easiest way to think of the remaining tight ends on the roster is to divide them up into blocking tight ends and pass-catching tight ends, though obviously there’s going to be some level of overlap. Markel, a 6’5”, 250-pound senior (who could claim a redshirt year for 2016 if he wanted to come back next season), clearly falls into the former category, as he’s played in 22 games over the last two years and caught one pass. That pass, by the way, was a two-yard touchdown against Tennessee. We can appreciate your one career catch being for a touchdown against Tennessee.

(Markel also started Turner’s Heroes in honor of Turner Cockrell, so we’ll also give him a shout for that.)

Braden Kopp, redshirt junior: The 6’5”, 270-pound Kopp was recruited to Vanderbilt as an offensive lineman and has since moved to tight end, where he appeared in seven games last season and has yet to register a catch. He’s here as an extra blocker and that seems to be about it.

The Pass Catchers

Ben Bresnahan, redshirt freshman: Bresnahan was expected to see action as a true freshman, but a preseason injury derailed that. Instead, the 6’4”, 245-pound Bresnahan preserves a year of eligibility. As a high school senior, he had 742 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns and clearly falls under the “pass catcher” category here.

Gavin Schoenwald, redshirt freshman: The 6’4”, 238-pound Schoenwald was a big recruit for Vanderbilt in the 2018 class, as much for his own talents as for who came with him (high school teammates Cam Johnson and Darius Garland.) He was all-state as a tight end as a high school junior, then played quarterback as a senior — and was an all-state selection there, too. He’ll have a chance to break into the rotation at tight end this season.

The Freshman

Joel DeCoursey, freshman: The first commitment in Vanderbilt’s 2019 recruiting class was an All-Indiana Super Team selection as a senior, and caught 26 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns. We’d expect a redshirt year, but you never really know with Derek Mason.

Justin Ball, freshman: The 6’6” Ball, from Washington, D.C., has a frame that suggests he might move to offensive tackle later — though as he comes in at 230 pounds, he’s clearly not an offensive lineman at the moment. A redshirt year is the expectation.