Jason Croom has an opportunity to join a very special club. So far, he’s embracing it.
There’s a history, albeit a small one, of Tennessee players moving to tight end from another position and benefitting greatly. The most obvious example is former defensive end Jason Witten.
Witten was moved from defensive end to tight end during his freshman season. He was shocked by the move and understandably concerned since the Vols had a history of not throwing to the tight end. But it all worked out. He’s wrapping up a likely NFL Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys.
A more recent example is David Martin. At receiver, Martin was overshadowed by smaller, quicker wideouts. He never accepted the move at Tennessee, but when the NFL asked if he was willing, well, money talks. Martin went on to play 10 years in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills. Had he stayed at receiver, it’s unlikely he would have had that kind of career.
Now, it’s Croom’s turn. At 6-foot-5 and 246 pounds, he looks more like a defensive end than a receiver, where he has played throughout his Tennessee career. Therefore, the decision was made to move Croom to tight end when he recovered from knee surgery last season. The decision was made in October, just after the Georgia game.
“It was a mutual decision, but I brought it up to them at first and they said it’s a good idea,” the Norcross, Ga., native said.
Croom’s willingness to make the move is the first step. The next step is learning how hold his own in the tackle box. That challenge has tripped up many transplanted tight ends.
“Just making sure I’m physical each and every play,” Croom said of his biggest challenge ahead. “Technique is real important down there. I just want to make sure I’m doing the right thing and I’m still going all out.”
Practice is just part of his acceptance of the move. Croom said he is trying to learn the position even when he’s not in work mode.
“I’m always watching other tight ends, just seeing if that was me, what would I have done,” Croom said. “I just envision myself making big plays at tight end. Anytime I’m watching football on T.V., I’m watching the tight end position all the time.”
Croom is also watching Tennessee junior Ethan Wolf, who is the only tight end on Tennessee’s roster to start a college game. Wolf is clearly the bellcow at tight end. He started 12 games last season, but Croom’s athleticism can be an intriguing change of pace. Croom said he is constantly asking Wolf questions about playing the position.
The greatest challenge for Croom at tight end may be staying healthy at a more physical position. At receiver, he was redshirted last season because of a knee injury and has also suffered a shoulder and collarbone injury. Tight end or not, Croom is just happy to be healthy.
“I’m grateful to be back,” the junior said. “It’s difficult being out. It’s something I love to do. It was taken away from me temporarily.”
Now, football has been given back — just in a slightly different form.