TE - Luke gains confidence in trio

Ole Miss' football team consists of only three tight ends who are considered game ready. In OC Noel Mazzone's offense, the tight end is an important, and vastly utilized, position. Is three enough to get the Rebs through the 2005 season? We'll see, but in the meantime TE Coach Matt Luke has gained confidence in his available candidates.

Tight Ends Coach Matt Luke is acutely aware of the expanded role the TEs will have in Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone's offense.

He's also cognizant of the fact that he only has three candidates to work with.

Neither factor has dampened his enthusiasm for his guys.

"My guys have played really well, all things considered," Luke began. "They have competed hard and they are picking up the offense well, which is something to hang our hats on because there is more for them to learn and a lot of differences for tight ends in the past system and in this one.

"We have more to learn in the passing game and in personnel sets. We have expanded the number of routes they will run. They are being asked to do more, but to this point I am pleased with the way they have picked things up and have tried to do what we want of them."

Certainly, the TE situation could not be called ideal at this juncture. Why? Because of numbers. Do the math. Mazzone has some three-TE sets and goes with two tights quite a bit. Needless to say, with only three TEs on campus, the threat of injury will be a concern.

"I told my guys that we can't have injuries. They are not allowed," Luke smiled. "We are not going to sit around and fret about the possibility of injuries. We have what we have and we are going to win with them, even though we are short on numbers."

When listing his depth chart, Luke begins with senior Jimmy Brooks, who emerged the past two seasons as the designated blocking TE, but was very limited in his pass-catching opportunities.

"Jimmy has had a really good spring. He continues to be physical at the line of scrimmage and downfield in blocking and he has improved in those areas in terms of technique and getting in the right position to make an effective block," Luke noted. "In the role of a receiver, he has improved his route-running and his pass-catching quite a bit. Jimmy is not going to run by defenders and stretch the field too much, but he's very capable in intermediate routes, stick routes and naked routes.

"If he will continue to improve his route-running and concentrate a little more in holding up longer when he is matched up with a defensive end in pass protection – and that goes for all three of our guys – Jimmy will have a productive senior season."

Junior Lawrence Lilly has not had the consistent spring most, including Luke, expected, but Matt is not overly worried.

"Lawrence is doing OK, but I think my assessments of him are a bit harder because he has all the talent in the world," Luke explained. "I want him to become more consistent in all phases of the game. He's been hot and cold this spring. He's been good, but not great and I expect him to be great. He has the talent to be great.

"LL has excellent hands, he can stretch the field some and he's more a prototype TE than anyone we've got and have had in a few years. He's tall, he's big and he's athletic. Now I'm ready for him to put it all together and be the kind of tight end I know he can be – a great one. I'm expecting a big fall camp from Lawrence."

Sophomore Robert Hough rounds out the tight end position, but just because he's listed third doesn't mean he won't be seeing lots of action.

"Robert has had an awesome spring. Despite his lack of size, he is a fierce competitor. He wants to be in the lineup," Luke stated. "He has worked hard on his hands and is now a better-than-average receiver. He has the speed to stretch the field.

"His drawback, despite the fact he will stick his nose in any physical situation, is his size. He needs to live in the weight room and figure out a way to get his body to 230-235 pounds by fall. If he will do that, he will be really good for us."

In closing, Luke said spring training has been – overall – a good learning process for the tight ends and for him.

"Coming into spring training, I wasn't sure I had the confidence to play all three of our guys, but now I do. The fact that we've only got three has been a blessing for them in that they have gotten worlds of needed reps. Those three have had to take every snap for the ones, the twos and the threes," Luke closed. "If we can just stay healthy, we'll be fine."

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