Tight Ends, Special Teams

James Shibest wears two hats - tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. He discusses both areas of the football team in Part VII of a series with the assistant coaches assessing spring training.

Ideally, you want a 6-5, 265-pound tight end who can run a 4.65 40.

Ole Miss doesn't have that, at least not until JUCO signee Jamal Mosley finds his way to campus this summer.

But what Tight Ends Coach James Shibest does have is a veteran, one he trusts and doesn't feel is hindered too much by a lack of bulk. That guy is senior Ferbia Allen, who has set the standard for the tight end position during spring training.

"We don't have a lot of depth, but we've had to get going this spring because Coach (David) Lee wants to get the tight ends involved in the passing game, so we've been getting after it," said Shibest. "We talk a lot about his lack of size, but fundamentally and as a kid who is fun to coach and does everything right, Ferb is tremendous. We all understand he is smallish for an SEC TE and he has a hard time keeping weight on, but he's a complete, all-around guy. He's experienced and has had a fantastic spring.

Ferbia Allen
Chuck Rounsaville
"I listen pretty closely to what the defensive guys say and they all talk about how much he's matured, grown up and developed. He's playing well."

The coaches moved former Alex Williams to tight end from wideout and, like Ferbia, he's a little light, weighing in around 230.

"Alex is kind of a hybrid guy – between a WR and a TE. Athletically, you can throw it to him. The big key is to get him better in run blocking," explained James. "Even though his role may seem minor next year, what he can do could be big for us. He can be a threat in the passing game and maybe on special teams."

Layton Jones, who came to Ole Miss as a quarterback, is now a 260-pounder and a player who figures into Shibest's plans.

"He's really improved. I think he can help us on special teams and I have seen improvement from him at tight end," said Shibest. "How much will he play? That will be determined in fall, but there should be a place for him to contribute."

Walkons Jack Nusimer, John Paloza and Dylan Dyer round out the tight ends on the roster.

"Jack wants to be a coach and is a great kid. He plays hard and knows what to do. He's a guy who has a shot on special teams too. He's a fullback/TE type," Shibest added. "John and Dylan give me good effort every day. We'll see where that takes them. Good kids."

On special teams, Shibest, the special teams coordinator, ran the gamut, from kickers to punters to gunners to return me to snappers and holders.

"We have a solid group of kickers, probably near the top of the SEC, returning. PK Bryson Rose had a great field goal percentage last year – the best in the league," Shibest continued. "He's solid and confident. Last year helped him.

"Will Denny and Jacob Hickman are very solid guys at snapping, they just lack game experience. They are what we are looking for, both of them, and they will be here a long time. Our holder is backup punter Chris Conley. He's been working on that for a year or so and the kickers have confidence in him putting the ball on the right spot and being sure-handed.

"Kicking off, we need to get a few more touchbacks and we need to correct the out of bounds kicks from last year. Andrew Ritter and David Hankins are both booming the ball and I think there will be a stiff competition between them, which is good. We had 13 touchbacks last year and they are better than that. We need to get 20, which is our goal. Also, Ritter is the backup punter and backup placement guy. He does a lot."

Tyler Campbell led the nation in punting last year, but Shibest wants a better net punting result.

Tyler Campbell
Chuck Rounsaville
"We need him to kick it higher so we don't give these return guys in this league a chance to get going. He's worked hard on that. We also were not as good as we need to be pooch punting and he's worked on that as well," said James. "He's a weapon – he just needs to improve a couple of little things.

"The thing about all our kickers is that they juniors now and feel more comfortable, which should be better results."

In the return game, Jeff Scott and JUCO transfer Philander Moore are the names Shibest tosses around the most.

"Our kickoff return game took off last year when we put Jeff back there. We are really excited about him because he is so explosive. He's really doing a great job catching punts too – he's a candidate for that job as well," noted Shibest. "Philander has a natural instinct catching punt and we are excited to have him too. Korvic Neat may help there too.

"Derrick Herman is our off return guy on kickoffs and he was tremendous in catching short kicks and in protecting our return guy."

The Rebs are thin in areas where you get most of your coverage personnel. Does that worry Shibest?

"We gave up a couple of home runs last year. Our motto is to eliminate the big plays. It comes down to personnel. We have struggled with filling those spots – especially getting enough from the LB and safety pools, but hopefully we'll have more viable bodies to work with this year," Shibest closed. "Also, we are looking at some new schemes in some areas that can help us out."

Bottom Line: Don't underestimate the value of Ferbia Allen at tight end or the importance of Jamal Mosley finishing his course work at Northwest. Both are critical. Alex Williams can help in the passing game, so that's a plus. . . On special teams, the specialists should be rock solid, but it's the support personnel around them that leaves some question marks coming out of spring training.

Next Up: The Wide Receivers.

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