Junior tight end Evan Engram, however, has been surprisingly quiet.
The Rebels twice eclipsed 600 total yards in wins over UT-Martin and Fresno State, becoming the first SEC team to ever score 73+ points in back-to-back games, and the first team from any conference since Houston in 1986.
Engram? One catch for five yards. Even defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche recorded a catch, and at least his went for 31 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m not worried about it, not one bit,” Engram said of his lack of touches. “We’ve had little spurts like that. Everybody does. It’s been a great opportunity for me to focus in on what I really want to be better at this season, and that’s my interior blocking and my physicality. It doesn’t matter how many balls I catch. We’re winning, I’m doing everything I can for my team. I’m here to do whatever’s asked of me. If I don’t catch one ball all season but we win games and we accomplish our goals, I’m going to be a very happy camper.”
Unlike in previous seasons, the 6-foot-3, 227-pound Engram said opposing defenses have to account for myriad weapons at the Rebels’ disposal, rather than simply keying in on him and star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who leads the team with nine catches.
“That’s what’s dangerous about us right now,” he said. “It’s so good seeing guys like Quincy (Adeboyeo), Cody (Core) and (Damore’ea) Stringfellow and our run game being consistent as well. It’s us being more versatile, being more explosive. We’re putting up 70-point games back-to-back, and we’re having different guys putting up all those points. That’s a product of all the hard work we’ve been putting in and then some guys getting into the groove and getting comfortable. It just makes us more dangerous. We have so many weapons. Utilizing all of them, we’re going to be very hard to stop.
“And defenses are playing us pretty differently this year. They’re kind of accounting for Laquon and myself, making sure the safeties don’t leave me unaccounted for. Some safeties play over the top of Laquon, and we kind of play into that sometimes. Defenses are throwing a lot of different stuff at us. Our coaching staff is trying to see who else can contribute at the tight end spot as well. We’ve got a lot of versatile, good talent in there. Trying to get some guys in there and get them some snaps. We’re just taking what’s given to us.”
Still, the slow start for Engram, at least in the stat department, is a bit of a surprise. A preseason All-American, he ranks top four in Ole Miss history in career receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns by a tight end.
He led all SEC tight ends with 662 receiving yards and was second with 38 catches last season, and he was tops among the nation’s tight ends and ranked seventh among league players with a 17.4 yards per catch average.
“We’re all competitive here, especially myself. I put a lot of work into my game,” he said. “One thing I’m strong about is being a leader for this team. Leaders wouldn’t complain about not getting the ball or being upset about it. Of course I want the ball in my hands. Of course I want to make plays. Of course I want to help my team win. But I can help my team win by being a leader on the sideline or correcting one of my teammates who didn’t make a right block; or sealing off a block for Jaylen (Walton) so he can get the edge; or cutting down a safety coming down on him. I take pride in doing everything I can for this team. It definitely feels good advancing my game and my physicality. I think I blocked really well this past game.
“I’m not the type of guy to whine or mope around about it. I don’t need reassurance about anything. Whatever (the coaches) ask me to do, I’m willing to do it. If they ask me not to worry about catching one ball all season but to make these blocks for us and it’s going to help us win, I’m going to be the first one to do it without hesitation. I’m not the type of guy to mope around or complain or whine about it. I’m happy for my team and how we look so far. I’m very excited about the challenge we have this week.”
Another reason for a drop in touches for Engram is the emergence of the vertical passing game, which was absent for the last two seasons as former Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace dealt with recurring soreness in his throwing shoulder.
Not so much anymore. Junior transfer QB Chad Kelly leads the NCAA in pass efficiency (234.0) and yards per pass attempt (13.9), while he's first in the SEC with six passing touchdowns, which is tied for third in the nation. He completed 20 of 25 passes for 346 yards and four touchdowns against Fresno State, including two scoring throws of at least 44 yards.
He orchestrated touchdown marches on all seven of his drives.
“One thing that we haven’t had on a consistent basis before this year was a deep ball,” Engram said. “We couldn’t really stretch the ball down the field that much last season. With Chad, he can launch it out the stadium with his arm, so a lot of the deep ball first reads are there. Just the deep ball and our speed on the outside and getting them downfield and completing passes for 50, 60-yard gains, we’ll definitely take that over a little check-down for a first down any day.
“That deep threat is there for the taking, so we’ve got to take our shots.”
Even if it means those shots come at the expense of Engram. But he won’t stay quiet for long.