Starting From Scratch

When spring football began, there were questions about the tight end position due to the graduation of the Rebs' top three in 2012. When spring football concluded, those questions remained.

The Ole Miss football coaches knew it was coming - a major depletion of the tight end position after the 2012 season.

With Ferbia Allen, Jamal Mosley and H.R. Greer gone, there was nothing to do but start from scratch.

The long-term solution was to go out and sign three tight ends in February - Christian Morgan, Evan Engram and A.J. Jackson. Objective accomplished on that front.

But what of the here and now? What about 2013, when those three are true freshmen and are facing all the trials and tribulations true freshmen face in transitioning from high school to the SEC?

Tight Ends Coach Maurice Harris was left with a daunting task in spring. In the end, all the issues had not been resolved.

What came out of the month-long tight end "tryout" was that the various candidates had specific skill sets that could help the team situationally, but nobody surfaced as "the complete tight end."

"My guys worked hard for me in spring, but we are just inexperienced at that position right now. That's the bottom line," said Harris. "We need those guys to keep working and step up between now and fall camp.

"From a blocking standpoint, we got better. We have some guys who will stick their noses in there. As a group, they became more physical, learned to move their feet better and shot their hands with more authority. They created some holes at times in spring, but from a package standpoint, we just don't have a tight end right now who has proven to be consistent in his route running. We have to get better in that area."

Right now, the starter, if there was a game tomorrow, would be Jack Nuismer, a senior walk-on from Nashville.

"Jack was the most reliable in terms of knowing what to do on every play. He was more consistent and has worked hard to get better," noted Maurice. "I can trust him in every situation. He's a smart player who knows where to line up and what to do with every call.

"In our system, tight end is not an easy position. I could get into a lot of details of why, the end game is that the TE has to know as much as anyone and has more assignments than anyone but the quarterback in our system."

Maurice Harris
File Photo

Justin Bigham, a senior walk-on who came to Ole Miss as a fullback, is next in line.

"Justin is a great effort guy. He's done a good job picking things up and blocking, but he has to keep working on his route-running and understanding how to get open against certain looks. He has to learn how to create separation with his body," Harris said. "That's his charge in the offseason and fall camp."

Signee Christian Morgan was eligible for spring training and was making steady progress until a knee injury about halfway through spring derailed his journey temporarily.

"Christian has really good hands, he understands coverages and route-running. He's probably our best receiving tight end right now," Mo stated. "We need him to play lower and get more physical at the point of attack, but until his injury, I could see him making strides in those areas. We need him healthy."

Another converted fullback, sophomore Charlie Scott, also did some good things in spring.

"I would call him a pleasant surprise this spring in terms of his blocking. He has been kicking some guys out, moving his feet and punishing some defenders," said Maurice. "He's a lot like Justin and H.R. He needs to work on his receiving skills, but I like the way he, at times, dominates at the point of attack."

Redshirt freshman Matt Brown got some kudos from Harris as well.

"He's a lot like Christian in that he is a very good receiver, but he has to work on his blocking and being more physical. He understands the offense and that has been pleasing. He's young and has a chance," added Maurice.

Redshirt freshman Taz Zettergren may be the Rebs' fastest tight end, but hat was not proven in spring training because he had a foot injury that sidelined him throughout spring.

Senior walk-on Dylan Dyer was next up.

"Dylan has been steady. He works hard and gives me what he's got," Harris said.

Analysis: The situation at tight end leaves one with questions. Will the Rebs rely less on that position and go with more four-wide sets? Will some of the candidates progress enough in the offseason and fall camp to be trusted to carry a bigger load than anticipated? Will it be TE by committee, drawing on each one's strengths? Will any of the three true frosh take the position by storm in August? One thing for certain, Harris has a tall task on his hands because right now, as things stood at the end of spring training, tight end was the weakest link in the offensive chain.

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