KNOXVILLE — Tennessee had a special weapon last football season. One it wasn't able to use for a number of reasons.
But it's safe to say that the Volunteers as well as tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson are hoping for a breakout season in his final year with the program.
The 6-foot-4, 257-pounder came to the Vols as one of the premier pass-catching tight ends in the country. He caught 45 passes in two seasons at Arizona Western Community College, four of those for touchdowns. A touchdown in the 2018 season opener against West Virginia led to some belief that he would be in for a big season, but that never materialized.
Poor offensive-line blocking led to Wood-Anderson having to be used more as a blocker than a pass catcher, and he finished with 140 yards on 17 catches for the season. A good part, though, was that he got better at an element of his game that the former high school quarterback never had really had to work on before.
"You know Dom really in junior college didn't play a whole lot in the 'C' area. He played mostly flexed out," Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said recently. "He doesn't shy away from it — he's a physical guy. Probably, in our offense, tight end is the one place where the multiples might be the greatest, because you play a wide receiver position and you play there in the core.
"We ask them to do a lot of different things. He's done a really nice job; he's been a good leader with that group. We've got competition there, and we've got to find some guys behind him."
Wood-Anderson admitted that he has honed in on blocking improvement going into his second season in Knoxville, which he expects to be far better than his first.
"It was one of my focuses," Wood-Anderson said. "I know playing tight end you have to do a lot of things. You have to catch the ball and you also have to be able to block as well. So hand placement and driving your feet is alway important. So that's something that we always press in meetings before going out on the field."
With new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney's history of getting the ball in the hands of the tight end, an improved offensive line could lead to more passes thrown to Wood-Anderson.
In Chaney's first stint in Knoxville, 2009-12, Luke Stocker averaged 34 catches in two seasons and scored seven touchdowns. Mychal Rivera averaged 32.5 catches his final two seasons and also scored seven times. With Chaney at Arkansas in 2013 and 2014, Hunter Henry had 65 catches and six touchdowns as a freshman and sophomore for the Razorbacks. J.P. Holtz had 24 catches and four scores in Chaney's lone season at Pittsburgh, and Isaac Nauta had nine touchdowns on 68 catches in three seasons at Georgia with Chaney as coordinator.
"He's a talented young man," Chaney said of Wood-Anderson. "It'll be interesting to see what we can get done with him. How many multiple positions can we let him play? That's always the trick on that position. How far can he take the game? In the spring we didn't really open up a lot of things for Dom, but I do think he's a talented guy. When he's got the ball in his hand, he does a really nice job.
"He's going to be one of those guys that's going to be forced touches. You're going to have to say, 'Hey, I've got to make sure he touches it X amount of times,' because I do think he's a talent and he can help us win a lot of games."
If Wood-Anderson is allowed to showcase what he can do, it'll serve as another weapon for quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to go along with some talented, experienced receivers and a diverse backfield.
Perhaps a weapon that doesn't stay secret long.
"I like that he's aggressive but at the same time he's kind of laid back," Wood-Anderson said about Chaney. "He wants to involve us (tight ends), but he's really just all about playmakers. Whoever is going to be those playmakers, whoever is going to help us get to where we want to get to, he's going to play them and get them the ball."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.