Rookie Tight Ends Add Athleticism

The Fighting Illini football team added an excellent class of incoming freshmen to its roster on signing day. Among them were two outstanding tight end prospects, players who have the speed and athletic ability to help early in their careers. Their future position coach describes their games in detail in part two of this report on tight ends and fullbacks.

Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino likes using his tight ends in passing routes. He was limited this past year due to a lack of experience and overall athleticism among his players, but incoming freshmen Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse should excite his imagination.

Tight end coach Chip Long is thrilled to have these two young men join his group.

"I am. I'm very excited. They are two guys who are different, but they're the same. They're extremely athletic. Both can do some amazing things when they've got the ball in their hands. Get up and down the field and make plays.

"One of the best things, I finally got to see Matt play basketball. He's just a competitive and fiery guy. I couldn't see just from meeting him, but he was flying around. He's a good leader. What I like is that both are really great competitors. When you got those kind of guys, they're gonna find a way to be great."

"You can turn on Jon Davis's highlight tape, and he's just making plays left and right. They're two really good kids, and I think they're gonna be good players for the University of Illinois."

Davis is 6'-3", 235, and LaCosse is nearly 6'-7" and 225. Davis was used some as a running back at Eastern High School in Louisville, Kentucky. LaCosse was a running quarterback for Naperville North. Long agrees they have excellent speed for tight end.

"They do. They can run really well. When they get the ball in their hands, hopefully they can make things happen. Both of them have a very bright future, and it's gonna be fun coaching them."

LaCosse will need to get stronger for the physicality of tight end, and it will take him awhile to learn a new position. But his versatility will offer numerous pass options.

"Oh yeah, it's gonna be so much fun. Just the mismatches we can do by motioning him and putting him in certain situations. We can get him either on a linebacker or a safety, which is a mismatch for any tight end. It's really exciting. He's gonna help our offense evolve."

Davis caught a lot of passes for Eastern, but he also ran the ball out of the backfield. Long and Petrino plan to use him in a variety of ways.

"We'll find any kind of way we can get him the ball and make plays. We will do what they do best and go off of that. I don't know how much he's gonna play running back, but he's gonna play a lot of tight end.

"Davis will do a lot of motion and mismatches. And then just move them all around. We could have Jon in the backfield as a fullback type to get him out in the flat to get him the ball. We'll use him in a million kind of ways.

"I kind of see him as a D.J. Williams, a guy I had at Arkansas. Matt reminds me a lot of Gary Barnes, who I had at Louisville. Both had great careers. It's exciting to have them both. They can do a lot of the same things, but each one of them can do some things differently. It's gonna be fun."

Sometimes the term "H-back" is used to describe tight end/fullback types. Long says that is not a term the Illini use.

"I think of an H-back as a tight end. We really don't use that term. We have the Y and the T."

One way or the other, Davis and LaCosse will both be both playmakers and blockers.

"They're gonna be trained in all three aspects, receiving, run blocking and pass protection. If you want to play at the next level, you're gonna have to know all three of them and be good at all three of them. It's gonna be a real exciting group."

Long was the primary recruiter for Darrius Caldwell, another highly-rated prospect. Caldwell will likely play Bandit for Illinois, a defensive end/linebacker hybrid. Long won't be coaching him, but he has a good idea of his skill level and potential.

"Darrius is really exciting. Any time you're 6'-5" and athletic, you should always find a place to play. He has to put on a little bit of weight, but that's fine. It will be good weight. He's long and rangy, runs around and is a great competitor. He comes from a great league of football in Atlanta at Benjamin Mays.

"His upside is tremendous. He's a great kid and loves Illinois. He actually has some family in Chicago. He's thrilled, and we're really excited about him."

There's a possibility all three freshmen will have a chance to earn playing time this fall.

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