It’s hard to remember the last time that a tight end didn’t feature prominently in Vanderbilt’s offense. You might have to go back to 2013 (and let’s not talk about who was supposed to play tight end for Vanderbilt that season) to find the last time, and Vanderbilt got away with it that year only because of a special group of wide receivers led by Jordan Matthews. Since then, Vanderbilt has always seemed to have a tight end who could at least give you something in the passing game, from Steven Scheu to Jared Pinkney to Ben Bresnahan and Gavin Schoenwald.
With Bresnahan and Schoenwald graduated, Vanderbilt’s five tight ends have combined to catch eight career passes. Making matters even worse, one of the five — and probably the best of the group, albeit one who hasn’t caught a pass at the college level — is out for the season. (And, of course, don’t forget that four-star recruit Ka’Morreun Pimpton was supposed to play here before flipping to LSU right before signing day.) Vanderbilt under Clark Lea hasn’t featured the tight end as heavily as Derek Mason’s teams did; but this year, that decision might not be by choice.
Cole Spence, redshirt freshman: Well, the 6’7”, 243-pound Spence was supposed to be the heir apparent. Instead, he tore his ACL and will miss the 2023 season. See you in 2024.
Justin Ball, redshirt senior: The 6’6”, 247-pound has good size and is good as an additional blocker, which is how he’s gotten into 26 games over the last three seasons. What he isn’t, or at least hasn’t been thus far in his Vanderbilt career, is a threat in the passing game; he’s caught seven passes for 73 yards in his career, with 36 of those coming on a single play. Ball will see a lot of playing time this season just because the position is so thin; if he develops into a receiving threat, that’s purely a bonus.
Logan Kyle, redshirt junior: The other reception by the tight end group was by Kyle in 2021; at that point, the 6’3”, 224-pound Kyle was a receiver. He’s mostly seen action on special teams to this point in his career, and apparently is moving to tight end this season, though he’s on the small side for a tight end. Vanderbilt probably didn’t have a ton of use for him as a receiver, but he’d be able to provide an additional pass-catching threat here.
Kamrean Johnson, freshman: The 6’5”, 221-pound Johnson played receiver in high school, and, in fact, Rivals projected him as a wide receiver. There is, clearly, going to be a bit of a curve here; he’s still basically the size of a receiver and will need a year or so to add weight. Expect a redshirt year.
Josh Palmer, freshman: A late addition — like, February 1 late — to the signing class, Palmer is listed at 6’4” and 192 pounds. If Johnson needs to add weight, Palmer really needs to add weight. Either or both could end up being Barton specials, or they don’t work out. We should all hope it’s the former.