It was a surprise move when redshirt junior Xavier Grimble announced following the 2013 season that he would forgo his final season of eligibility to enter the 2014 NFL Draft.
Grimble leaving early leaves the Trojans in somewhat of a pinch at the position. The only player on the roster with significant time at the position is now Randall Telfer.
At Washington, Steve Sarkisian made a star out of tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. Sefarian-Jenkins became one of the Huskies top targets on offense, finishing the season third on the team with 36 receptions for 450 yards, including a team high eight touchdowns. He won the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding tight end, and was drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
2013 Review: Both starting tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble saw limited action in an injury plagued 2013 season.
Grimble played in 13 of the Trojans games with nagging injuries. He caught 25 passes for 271 yards (compared to 29 in 2012 for 316 yards), including two touchdowns.
Meanwhile Grimble’s longtime counterpart Telfer was only able to play in 11 games for the Trojans. Telfer injured his knee at Notre Dame and was sidelined for the next three games. He caught just six passes for 28 yards, including a touchdown in 2013.
And the Trojans promising sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick wasn’t immune to the injury bug, either. Cope-Fitzpatrick injured his knee at Notre Dam, as well, and missed the next two contests at Utah and Stanford. He finished the season with just one reception for four yards.
The Trojan tight ends were hit by the injury bug so hard, in fact, that in the second half of the season stretch against Utah, Oregon State and California, offensive lineman Nathan Guertler had to start a game, as did two walk-ons.
2014 Outlook: Thin at the position due to injuries in 2013, the Trojans will once again be facing depth issues in 2014.
Returning to the lineup will be Randall Telfer, who has three years of starting experience under his cleats. If he is able to maintain his health throughout the year, he’ll undoubtedly be the Trojans go-to tight end.
Telfer was limited in spring and summer practices as he continues to recover from a knee injury.
It is interesting to note that Telfer’s production has seen a steady decline since his redshirt freshman year. In 2011, he caught 26 passes for 273 yards… The following season he caught 12 passes for 100 yards and four touchdowns… 2013? Just six passes for 78 yards.
Gaining valuable experience over the Trojans 15 spring practices was Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. Look for the junior to takeover shared playing time with Telfer in the absence of Xavier Grimble. Over the Trojans 15 spring practices and 15 summer player-run practices, Cope-Fitzpatrick showed an improved consistency catching the football and looks to have a significant role in Sarkisian’s offense.
“Randall is a skilled veteran, but being limited in the spring created an opportunity for Jalen to get quality reps,” Sarkisian said.
The wildcard this season will be whether or not Telfer and Cope-Fitzpatrick are able to stay healthy throughout the season or if the Trojans will need to turn to true freshman Bryce Dixon at some point.
Dixon, a Scout four-star recruit, saw limited reps throughout summer player-run practices but showed an ability to be a big offensive target.
“Our offensive system loves to have multiple tight ends on the field,” said Sarkisian. “Our hope is to develop this position, and, along with our use of fullbacks, make us really unique.”
Walk-on Chris Willson, who has played both quarterback and tight end in practices for the Trojans and even started a contest at tight end a season ago, showed an improved ability to catch the football in both spring and summer practices. As far as walk-on athletes go, Willson appears to be one of the strongest and looks capable of playing meaningful minutes for the Trojans this season if called upon.