Tennessee doesn’t return many experienced pass catchers this season. The Vols also suffer from a lack of playmaking ability from the tight end position. Taking both factors into consideration, combined with his early performance in camp, true freshman LaTrell Bumphus could quickly develop from an unknown commodity to one of the program’s breakout performers this fall.
Bumphus’ recruitment didn’t come with an exceptional amount of fanfare, perhaps due to the perception that he was a tweener. While some recruiting sites listed him as a tight end, others listed him as a defensive end following his two-way career at Hardin County High School in Savannah, Tenn.
With Tennessee having a deep stable of defensive ends on the roster and the aforementioned issues at tight end, there was no doubt where the Vols needed Bumphus to line up. With Larry Scott now running Tennessee’s offense, it will be interesting to see if the long-time tight end coach better utilizes the position group into UT’s gameplan — something fans have seemingly been calling for since Jason Witten left the program 15 years ago.
Based on Scott’s recent comments on Bumphus, that’s exactly what the offensive coordinator has in mind.
“He was a project of mine, every time I got my hands on him in a camp situation, it was enough to make me believe he could develop and grow into that position and be a true wide tight end,” Scott said following a recent practice. “You’re talking about a 6-foot-4, 260-pound freshman that can run and bend like a 220-pound guy. This guy was tracking fly balls in center field for his baseball team, so that’s pretty athletic for a big man.”
While roaming the outfield is a good indication of Bumphus’ speed, it should be noted that he returned kickoffs in high school as well.
Senior tight end Jakob Johnson, a player hoping to break out himself in his final season on Rocky Top, has also noted the surprising speed of the true freshman. Despite the fact that if Bumphus sees the field this year, it likely means he’s eating into Johnson’s snaps, the senior couldn’t resist from expressing his belief that the true freshman will have a big career at Tennessee.
“He can run for a guy that’s 260 (pounds) coming out of high school. He can really move. He’s really physical, kind of a raw talent,” Johnson said during his media availability. “I think you will hear his name a lot down the line. I think he has great potential to be a great tight end at UT.”
Following Friday’s practice, head coach Butch Jones did his best to temper expectations for the young freshman following the impressive start to his Tennessee career during the first week of camp. While stressing the importance of the growth and development that needs to come on a daily basis for his young tight end, Jones seems to indicate Bumphus may be too good to leave on the sidelines.
“It’s all happening very fast. What we see is a very talented young man who is very very explosive with a great center of gravity, tough and has very very good ball skills,” Jones said. “We just need to continue to progress with him day by day. But he is an individual who we anticipate can help us at that position.”
Check out Bumphus’ high school highlight reel to get an idea of not only his speed and quickness but his ability to make impressive catches and his toughness and willingness to block.