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Vanderbilt Football 2022 Position Preview: Tight End

Clark Lea... didn’t use the tight ends much.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 12 Tennessee at Vanderbilt Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Entering last season, my main question about the tight end room wasn’t the quality of the players; it was how much new head coach Clark Lea and new offensive coordinator David Raih Joey Lynch would use the tight ends.

The answer: not much. Vanderbilt’s tight ends combined to catch just fifteen passes in 2021; to put that number in perspective, in 2020, Ben Bresnahan caught 28 passes by himself. This didn’t appear to be a decline in performance, either; while the passing game in general wasn’t very effective in 2021, Vanderbilt also didn’t seem to be making much use of the tight ends.

With that in mind, Vanderbilt enters the 2021 season with five tight ends on the roster, but four of them are in their fourth or fifth year in the program — meaning, there’s a good chance three or four of them will be out of the program in 2022. And so far, the Commodores don’t have one committed in the 2023 class. In other words — making use of the tight end might be a thing of the past.

The Incumbents

Ben Bresnahan, redshirt senior: See above. The 6’4”, 243-pound Bresnahan broke out in 2020 — and then disappeared in 2021. Actually, “disappeared” is probably the wrong word; he just wasn’t utilized much. He still started nine games — all nine in which he played — but this was probably the most glaring example of how Vanderbilt’s offense was different in its first year under Clark Lea.

Gavin Schoenwald, redshirt senior: The 6’4”, 246-pound Schoenwald, from nearby Brentwood, had felt like a disappointment after coming in with some fanfare, but he finally found the end zone in 2021, catching four passes for 42 yards — one of them a four-yard touchdown pass against Missouri. Prior to 2021, Schoenwald hadn’t caught a pass in three years in the Vanderbilt program. It was a bit of a surprise that he returned instead of joining his high school friend Cam Johnson in the transfer portal.

The Backups

Justin Ball, redshirt junior: The third tight end to see action for Vanderbilt in 2021, Ball caught a single pass for nine yards. He has good size at 6’6” and 245 pounds, but seems to have been used much more as an extra blocker.

Joel DeCoursey, redshirt junior: DeCoursey finally got into a game in his third year in the Vanderbilt program, appearing in the Stanford and Georgia games. My guess is that he’s going to get his degree and leave; as far as this season goes, he starts behind Bresnahan, Schoenwald, and Ball, and this isn’t an offense that really has much use for four tight ends. It barely has a use for three.

The Freshman

Cole Spence, freshman: Spence is a big guy at 6’7” and 237 pounds, and he was a good enough performer at Mount Pisgah Christian Academy in Georgia (55 receptions, 957 yards, five touchdowns) to merit a three-star rating. My guess is he’ll redshirt — but he might be the only returnee here in 2023.