Second-Year Surge: Miles Campbell

The Tennessee football team hopes to return to prominence sooner rather than later under second-year head coach Josh Heupel and his staff.

As important as coaching staffs are to a football program, though, players ultimately have to make plays on the field — or get exposed in the process.

It’s often said that a player’s biggest improvement comes between his first and second year on campus. One full year’s worth of experience on campus, whether a player redshirts or contribute players, tends to make most much more comfortable with their surroundings and much more ready to help their team.

With those previous few annual paragraphs in mind, GoVols247’s 12th Second-Year Surge series will examine Tennessee’s group of second-year scholarship players, dissecting reasons for optimism and hesitation about each player’s immediate and longterm future in the Heupel era.

The Vols need significant improvement from players in their 2021 signing class if they hope to continue climbing back toward their traditional place near the top of the Southeastern Conference.

Will that happen, though?

Let’s start that conversation now.

Second-Year Surge starts with a look at redshirt freshman tight end Miles Campbell.

Position: Tight end
Size: 6-foot-3, 235 pounds
Hometown/Previous school: Douglasville, Georgia/South Paulding HS
Recruiting ranking: No. 432 overall prospect in the nation according to the industry-generated 247Sports Composite. No. 18 tight end prospect in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite, No. 13 tight end prospect in the nation according to 247Sports. No. 34 overall prospect in Georgia according to the 247Sports Composite, No. 1 23 overall prospect in Georgia according to 247Sports.
2020 stats: 4 games, 0 starts; played primarily on special teams late in the season while preserving a redshirt; two kickoff returns for 25 yards on pooch kicks.

Tennessee redshirt freshman tight end Miles Campbell (Photo: Calvin Mattheis, Knoxville News Sentinel)

STRENGTHS SHOWN: Opinions of Campbell as a prospect didn’t necessarily run the full gamut, but there were certainly differences of opinion in different camps — which isn’t uncommon for any position, especially tight end, where such a vast array of physical and mental attributes is required in order to succeed at the highest levels. Tennessee’s previous staff loved Campbell, though, and Heupel and Co. were happy to keep him when they arrived in Knoxville. Campbell has an interesting and diverse athletic background that often leads to success at the tight end position, which might be one of the reasons he had more than 30 scholarship offers. His second favorite sport is volleyball, and he also was a really good soccer player as a kid, so he’s certainly a versatile athlete. He also played multiple positions on both sides of the ball in high school. He was a quarterback his freshman season, and he played quarterback at times as a sophomore and junior, as well, but he still ended high school career with 1,385 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns. And he did that despite playing just nine games as a senior. He also arrived on campus with an adequate frame for the tight end position at the SEC level, which is far from given in that spot. Despite the loss of Austin Pope heading into the 2021 season, Tennessee was able to redshirt Campbell, and reports on his performance in practice were consistently solid.

STEP-UP NEEDED: Excelling as an all-around tight end as a true freshman at the SEC level is unusual — not unusual, but unusual. A crazy combination of skills and FBI (football intelligence) is needed to succeed in that spot in just about any system. That’s certainly the case in Tennessee’s system, which is heavy on inside zone, outside zone and split zone running plays but also likes to utilize the tight ends in the passing game. Most young college tight ends are either good blockers who need to improve as receivers, or good receivers who need to improve as blockers. Campbell fell into the latter category. He’s very willing as a blocker — he also was a good edge defender in high school — but he just needs to continue getting stronger. He and senior Princeton Fant have virtually identical measurements on the team’s official roster, but Campbell doesn’t look like Fant. There’s a reason for that. Campbell is 19 years old, and Fant is 23. Fant at 19 didn’t look like Fant at 23, either. It takes time. Campbell by all accounts has the work ethic to get there, but there are no guarantees in this sport. Campbell could have used a big spring camp to continue his development, but he missed all of it with an injury. That naturally will put more pressure on him to seize any and every opportunity he gets this summer and in preseason camp to work his way up the depth chart heading into this season. Injuries are inevitable in football, though, and Campbell has plenty of time to develop as a prospect for the long haul.

SYNOPSIS (TL;DR): Fant and fellow senior Jacob Warren are entrenched in the lineup as co-starters at tight end for Tennessee, and everyone in the program is comfortable asking those two veterans to execute one of the most versatile and vital roles in the Vols’ offense. Perhaps neither is a star, but both are smart, tough and reliable players in the running and passing games. Injuries happen, though, and depth will be required even if both vets stay healthy throughout the season. Tennessee needs at least one more player — and ideally multiple players — to step up and prove themselves as reliable options in those spots. Campbell, if healthy, is poised to enter preseason camp as one of the candidates to join the rotation. Veteran walk-on Hunter Salmon will probably compete with Campbell for the No. 1 3 tight end role, and it’s possible that the big, physical Salmon and the more-athletic Campbell could be mix-and-match options, depending on the situation. There are other candidates, though. A pair of intriguing 6-foot-7 walk-ons — redshirt freshman Charlie Browder and freshman Titus Rohrer — showed signs of promise in spring camp, and Browder in particular looked like someone potentially ready to contribute. Campbell remains a talented prospect, though, and it’ll be interesting to see how he performs in camp. He’s a good athlete who’s comfortable and capable in the passing game.