Tight ends already finding the end zone for Vols

Tennessee Athletics photo by Kate Luffman / Tennessee sixth-year senior tight end McCallan Castles, a graduate transfer from UC Davis, has two catches for 59 yards this season, including a 43-yard touchdown during last Saturday night's win over Austin Peay.

A completed pass from Joe Milton III to a tight end this season has a 50% chance of going for a touchdown.

At least that's the rate through Tennessee's opening wins over Virginia and Austin Peay.

Sixth-year seniors Jacob Warren and McCallan Castles each have two receptions, including one touchdown catch apiece, with Warren scoring from 11 yards out during the 49-13 hammering of Virginia and Castles scoring from 43 yards out in last Saturday's 30-13 dumping of Austin Peay. Castles is in his only season with the Volunteers after beginning his career at the University of California, transferring to UC Davis and then transferring to Tennessee as a graduate student.

"I'm happy with where these guys have started," Vols first-year tight ends coach Alec Abeln said this week in a news conference. "Obviously there is a lot to improve on, but the guys have played hard and have made plays when they've come their way. I think it's just the beginning of what they're capable of."

Warren had 12 catches for 163 yards last season but never reached the end zone on an offense that racked up 79 touchdowns and led the nation with 46.1 points per game. He teamed last year with Princeton Fant, who is currently a practice squad member of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, and has now formed a tandem with Castles.

The two Castles catches this year have covered 59 yards and have contained 59 yards after the catch, with his 43-yard score against the Governors including 45 after the catch.

"He's athletic," Abeln said. "He's explosive. I 100% expect that from him."

Said Warren: "The athlete he is shows up in that moment."

Castles atoned for an earlier drop last Saturday night by making one defender miss and breaking an ankle tackle before racing down the home sideline. For the final 30 yards of his score, he was able to watch as receiver Bru McCoy blocked a defensive back down the field and ultimately to the goal line.

"Bru putting a guy in the end zone was more impressive than the touchdown," Castles said. "He drove that guy 40 yards. It was a great block, and it's probably why he'll be playing on Sundays."

Castles was accustomed at UC Davis to taking road trips to the likes of South Dakota State, Montana State, Northern Colorado, Idaho and Sacramento State. His first venture into hostile territory with the Vols will be Saturday's journey to Florida's 88,548-seat Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

He knows it will be very different. After all, he has now played inside a packed Neyland Stadium.

"For me, every game is crazy, because these are my first SEC games," Castles said. "I'm excited. The Swamp at night is going to be crazy."

Man in the middle

Vols head coach Josh Heupel said Thursday during his final news conference before the Florida game that senior center Cooper Mays has been "really good all week long" and that he anticipates the 6-foot-3, 305-pounder being ready to compete. Mays underwent an undisclosed surgical procedure early in preseason camp.

Heupel was asked how much Mays should be expected to play in his season debut and whether he would share time with sixth-year senior Ollie Lane, who started the first two contests.

"Even before he was back on the grass with us, there were a lot of things he was doing with our strength staff," Heupel said. "The flow of the game will dictate how he's feeling out there and that type of thing."

Pili to make trip

Sixth-year senior linebacker Keenan Pili is not going to play Saturday night, but Tennessee coaches thought enough of the Brigham Young graduate transfer to include him on the traveling roster.

Pili sustained an upper-body injury in the opener that is expected to sideline him until the midway point of the season.

"He was gone for a day and then was right back in the building," Heupel said. "He's approached it like he's playing, and he's been really good with his teammates.

"He's really kind of approaching it like a coach would, and he's got a great impact on this football team."

The 'Stormtroopers'

Tennessee will wear white jerseys with white pants and white helmets Saturday night, a combination commonly referred to as the "Stormtrooper" look.

The Vols wore all white twice last season, outlasting Pittsburgh 34-27 in overtime and routing Vanderbilt 56-0. They went 1-2 as Stormtroopers two years ago, demolishing Missouri 62-24 but losing to Alabama 52-24 and falling to Purdue in the Music City Bowl 48-45 in overtime.

Odds and ends

Heupel and Florida's Billy Napier have similar records early in their sixth seasons as college head coaches, with Heupel 48-16 (75.0%) and Napier 47-20 (70.1%). ... Tennessee is rushing for 257.5 yards per game, which ranks fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision. ... Vols senior cornerback Kamal Hadden already has five pass breakups and an interception this season.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com