Tight Ends Coach James Shibest has his plate full.
Besides being the tight ends coach, Shibest is also the special teams coordinator. It's something he's done for Houston Nutt for a decade or so. He can obviously handle it, but this year there's an extra duty he's tackling.
Even though it's the natural order of things in college football, Shibest lost his bell cow at tight end – Gerald Harris – to graduation. Simply put, this means all returning players have to step up a notch or two.
His backup has to become a starter, his third-teamer has to step into backup duty and so on. It's a little different at tight end though. Whereas a backup guard or tackle might not play much, in Ole Miss' offense there are two-tight and three-tight sets, meaning the top trio will be counted on to contribute.
Translated: Shibest has to have them all game ready.
At this point, he's optimistic about their spring development. "At tight end, (sophomore) Ferbia Allen has done an impressive job. From what we see right now, he's going to have to be the guy and he's responded with a really good spring," said Shibest. "We still want to get him a little bigger – I think he's around 242 pounds right now and we are shooting for 250-255 before next August.
"With Ferbia, I think we can get the ball to the tight end a little bit more than we have been. He's highly intelligent and I think he will be good in the passing game and be efficient enough in the run game. He played pretty well at 235 last year because he's a fighter and he's smart. We're very happy with Ferbia to this point."
Senior Reggie Hicks has made a niche' for himself with improved play this spring.
"Reggie has been a surprise to be honest. He's had a super spring, very good. I think we are going to be able to carve out a role for him with this team," James stated. "He's been a fine special teams player for us the last two years, but I think we are going to be able to expand his responsibilities in the fall to include more tight end duties.
"He's been consistent and we're counting on him in our two-tight formations. Reggie does some motion stuff for us and has responded well. I know he wants to play more his final year. It has shown in his spring production. Reggie, like Ferbia, has good hands in the passing game."
Redshirt freshman Z. Mason is next in line and Shibest bragged on his progress as well.
"Z. has made a lot of progress this spring. We've been happy with his jump," noted Shibest. "He's strong, country strong, and physical. He can run well and his hands are very good. We just have to get him bending better. He has to get to where he can bend better to get in a strong football position. He's been working on that a lot and will need to continue to work on that with Coach (Don) Decker. We've seen the signs we thought we did when we signed him starting to emerge now."
Senior Layton Jones and walk-on Jack Nusimer, a converted defensive end, round out the candidates.
"Layton has done some good things in spring as well. He's willing and competitive. We'll see where he goes from here," James said. "Jack is a solid program guy we are glad to have with us."
The Rebels would ideally like to be a bit more "brutish" at tight end. It seems a lot of offenses have gone the way of the tight end being more of an extra tackle with 260-pounders being the norm rather than the exception. In that regard, the Rebels are a little light in the seat, but the available candidates have shown the toughness and willingness to latch on to defenders that Shibest is looking for.
On the flip side, the expectations are for the Rebel TEs to be much more productive in the passing game than in the past. At least they were in spring training. All the top three are dangerous in the receiving game and two – Allen and Hicks – can actually stretch the field beyond the normal 8-yard curl or out pattern.