At tight end, the starting point is sophomore Evan Engram, who burst on the scene last season and then fell to injury later in the year. His loss directly affected offensive productivity, which Werner addressed.
“It was just so obvious when he came out that we just weren’t as productive,” noted Werner. “Evan is a wide receiver- type talent at tight end. He’s so athletic and has such good hands, but because of the position he plays, he’s being covered by linebackers. He creates ridiculous mismatches for defenses.
“He was such a weapon for us and it took a toll everyone could see when he was out. Evan had a very good spring and has had a very good offseason. He’s gotten bigger by about 15 pounds or so and stronger. I’ve been told he’s even faster. To me that all translates into him being even better.”
Channing Ward was moved from defensive end to tight end in spring and produced surprising results, especially catching the ball.
“Channing can really run. He ran the 100 meters in track in high school. He’s big, he’s physical and he can really run. That’s a pretty good combination,” said Werner. “He picked up the offense fairly well, and will only get more in tune in August, and he has good hands. He could be a real threat for us, no doubt.
“A guy flying under the radar who had a good spring was Nick Parker. He’s very smart and understands the offense and the whole scheme. He’s a good blocker and a reliable receiver. Being an older guy who has been around, he has been through a lot of battles. When Evan went out, he played a big role for us and proved he can produce.”
There is a great deal of anticipation about true freshman Sammie Epps being the second coming, if you will, of Engram. Tall, fast, good hands and, even though a bit slight for a prototype tight end, a defensive coordinator’s mismatch nightmare.
“We certainly believe Sammie is very similar to Evan – that’s why we wanted him so badly,” Werner assessed. “With all due respect to Sammie, if he comes close to Evan, we will be very, very excited, and we expect him to be that type of player.”
What does the possibility of Engram and Epps in the lineup at the same time bring to the table, from the OC’s perspective?
“It creates a quandary for the defense,” Werner said bluntly. “They don’t know if we are going to use them blocking or in the backfield or splitting them out wide and they can be just as effective in all those roles. If we have four wides, for example, most coordinators are going to go to their nickel or dime packages, but if two of our guys are Evan and Sammie and the defense is showing six DBs, we will motion them inside and run it down their throats. If they don’t go to extra DBs and stay in a base defense with three linebackers, we have the mismatches in the passing game we want.
“I think their presence will create a lot of problems for defenses and defensive coordinators.”
Out wide, Werner is confident the Rebels are on the right path with enough talent, experience and depth to get the job done, and there are some options the coaches can incorporate due to the flexibility of Engram and Epps.
“We moved Laquon (Treadwell) from the slot to an outside receiver slot and it’s been a great move. He’s a natural out there,” Werner began his WR evaluation. “We are getting him on corners. There aren’t many corners who can physically match up with Laquon. There is something reassuring for quarterbacks when they see single coverage on him that they can throw it up and he goes and makes a play.”
The other move that sometimes gets a little overlooked and was just as effective in spring was shifting sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo from the outside to the slot position.
“Until he got nicked up at the end of spring, he was tremendous. Quincy is one of the hardest-working guys on offense. He wants to be great,” explained Werner. “He has so much talent anyway and he’s constantly working to improve his craft. That all equates to success. I expect him to burst on the scene this year.
“We also didn’t have one of our reliable veterans – Vincent Sanders – in spring training. Don’t forget about him. We know what he can do. Knowing he’s going to be healthy for the fall is certainly a security blanket for us as a coaching staff. He’s a proven playmaker who demands the attention of a defense.”
Werner said two other wideouts – Cody Core and Collins Moore – stepped their games up a notch in spring training.
“We have guys who do different things. Collins is more of a possession guy and he made a lot of plays in spring,” Werner noted. “Cody has speed and is a big target. Both will help us in certain roles and certainly they give us quality depth.
“We don’t know what to expect from the two freshmen – Markell Pack and Dayall Harris – but we signed them because we feel they are going to be excellent additions to the receivers’ room. Also, don’t forget we can split Evan and Sammie out wide if we want to. Between the versatile tight ends and wide receivers we have, we have a chance to be really good for a couple of years or more.”
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