There are a couple of ways young players can learn how they are supposed to do things on a football field.
One, via their coach or coaches. Two, by watching and learning from a peer who knows what to do and sets a good example.
The tight ends had the best of both worlds in spring training as Tight Ends Coach James Shibest will attest.
"It's always an advantage when a coach can tell his players how to do things and then have a veteran player to execute those things for the younger guys to see," Shibest said. "Gerald Harris, coming off a real good Cotton Bowl effort, is setting a very good example for the younger guys who are trying to learn the position.
"Overall, I think we are catching the ball better and that should help in the passing game. We plan to throw to the tight end more but a lot of that will depend on how we develop as a group."
Harris, a senior, has been a model of consistency in the run game and is working hard to improve his pass catching skills.
"Gerald is playing with confidence and has become a really good run blocker. The Cotton Bowl helped his mindset in the passing game. Catching two TD passes on a big stage will do that," Shibest noted. "I like the direction he's going and I like that he's a good example for our younger players."
Junior Reggie Hicks is next on the tight end totem pole and Shibest expressed some satisfaction with Hicks' spring play.
"Reggie has improved a lot. He's going to help us on special teams and will help us in the offense a little more than I anticipated before spring due to his improvement," James added. "That's really good because we have two real young ones behind them who need some time to develop without having to be thrown completely in the fire early next season."
Those two youngsters are redshirt freshmen Ferbia Allen and E.J. Epperson, who has been limited in spring due to being in a cast for a dislocated wrist suffered in Cotton Bowl practices.
"We tried to get E.J. some work this spring, but he hasn't really been able to do much. It will be fall until we can really dive in with his development and push him. He's practiced every day, but it's hard for him to stick his hand in there in the trenches," Shibest explained. "Ferbia is a guy who will be able to do it all eventually. Right now, he's not strong enough, so he needs to have a big offseason and just keep developing physically. Athletically, he has a very good upside but next year he'll be limited in how we can use him. That's fine – his development is going very good. He just needs a little more time."
Junior Leyton Jones rounds out the tight end candidates.
"Leyton moved over here from quarterback and is really doing a nice job with his development at tight end. I'm pleased with his effort. We'll see where he fits in when August camp rolls around," Shibest ended.
Overview: Harris can be a big time player in his final collegiate career, there's little question of that, but the development of the others is vital for two-tight sets and for Harris to get some rest here and there. Hicks was solid in spring, but Allen and Epperson need to have monster offseasons to give that position the necessary depth needed in the SEC. Allen is already a quality tight end in the passing game – he's got excellent hands and can run, and he will stick his nose in the fight in run blocking, but he's got to gain more strength and weight to be able to pack the punch needed to effectively run block in our league . Epperson needed spring training, but didn't get it. He says he can make up for lost ground in the offseason and spring, but lost time is hard to overcome quickly. The ball is in their court. They will be needed, at least as role players and perhaps more.
Tight Ends -
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