Tight Ends Coach James Shibest inherited, arguably, the most inexperienced position on the Ole Miss football team when he came here from Arkansas.
With Robert Lane and Robert Hough graduating off last year's squad, that left senior David Traxler, who was converted from an offensive lineman to a tight end last year, as the only returning tight end on the team, and even Trax did not play very much last season with Lane and Hough carrying the bulk of the load.
Consequently, Shibest has the task of, in a way, starting from scratch, but he's pleased so far with the progress the tight end candidates have made.
"I think we got a little bit better every day as a unit, just like we got a little better every day as an offense," Shibest said. "We don't have a lot of experience at tight end – guys who have actually played a lot, if any, SEC football – but we've got some good raw talent there."
Traxler had an excellent offseason in the weight room and in conditioning and it's paid off in spring training.
"David hasn't played a lot of football here, especially at tight end. I'd like to see him have a great senior year and finish up his career on a high note," said Shibest. "We really need him to come through there for us. He's had a good spring in terms of catching the ball when he's had the opportunity and he's blocking well. Being a former offensive lineman, I expected his blocking to be good. He's strong, he just needs some game experience. He runs pretty well too – well enough to be a threat in the passing game."
Traxler and JUCO transfer Gerald Harris are the top guns at tight end. Shibest thinks of them both as starters, so to speak, because the Rebs get in two-tight sets often.
"It's been surprising how quickly Gerald has picked some things up. We are going to need him next year. He's a big body who has some athletic ability. He's made some good catches this spring and is learning the speed of the game on this level. He just needs to get stronger. If he'll do that, he can be a top guy," James added.
Sophomore Reggie Hicks started spring as a fullback but has since been moved to tight end. Shibest has not had extensive time with Reggie, but the early look has been pleasing.
"Reggie played some tight end last year here. He's a guy who can help us in the future in the H-Back role, which is very similar to a tight end in our system. He's made some good catches this spring and has a future, he's just young," Shibest noted.
Sophomore Cecil Frison is trying to settle in to tight end as well. He's a player who has been moved back and forth during his career from offense to defense and has not had a chance to latch on to any position.
"Cecil needs to stay in the weight room and keep working. He has some athletic ability, but his body needs developing. He's young though, so it can all happen for him during his career," said James.
Ben Benedetto, a sophomore, is another transplant. He played on the defensive line last season and has been moved to tight end for the spring.
"Ben is still learning the position, baby step at a time. He starting from ground zero and trying to learn as we go. He's a willing kid, so we'll see how that pans out for him," Shibest stated.
A walkons, junior Garrett Ryan, also moved over from defense this spring, is in the mix and is on the learning bus.
"We haven't been able to get him many team reps but he's working hard in individual drills. He's a great kid we are glad to have with us. He will provide some good looks for the defense on the scout team and keep progressing with time," he closed.
Overall, Traxler has raised an eyebrow or two this spring with his improvement in the passing game. Like Shibest said, he's not a 4.6 40 kid, but he's fast enough to factor in the passing game and he's shown better than expected, if not excellent, hands in most situations. Harris has the look – he and Traxler both look the part of SEC tight ends. It's just a matter of gaining experience for both. Beyond them, there is a ‘Help Wanted' sign being flashed to the others. Three tight ends have to be ready, four would be better. Right now, the number is at two.
In the spring game, Harris had two catches for 22 yards for the winning Blue Team.
Tight Ends -
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