OXFORD, Miss. – While much of the excitement about the Ole Miss offense typically revolves around its talented wide receivers, the Rebels’ tight ends group has made strides this spring—thanks in large part to the improvement of Octavious Cooley.
With the absence due to injury this spring of Dawson Knox—expected to be the Rebels’ starter when the team takes the field against Texas Tech in Houston—Cooley was able to get a lot of quality reps during spring camp.
Having players out during spring camp isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes the absence of starters offers one of the backups an opportunity he might not have otherwise had.
Cooley is a perfect example as he made the most of his time on the field and impressed the coaching staff in the process. The junior from Laurel, Miss. understands where he needs to be on the field, and he has great hands. Though he currently weighs in at 268 pounds, Cooley appears to have no problem getting downfield.
Octavious Cooley wins Eli Manning Award
As a result of Cooley’s progression, he was presented with the Eli Manning Award before Saturday’s Grove Bowl. The award goes to the most improved offensive player based on spring practice performance in the area of spirit, leadership, hustle, determination, and dependability.
Presented to the most improved offensive player based on spring practice performance in the area of Spirit, Leadership, Hustle, Determination and Dependability, the Eli Manning Award has been earned by @octavious6 pic.twitter.com/NZ3oCl1lvk
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) April 7, 2018
In the absence of Knox, Cooley has been the No. 1 tight end on the depth chart and could play a vital role in the Rebels’ 2018 offense, giving offensive coordinator Phil Longo the option of running a two-tight end set at times—something head coach Matt Luke thinks would be a great idea.
“Yeah, you’re going to see that at times for sure,” Luke said following the Grove Bowl, which ended with the defense defeating the offense, 27-21.
“When you can get in big sets and be in a bunch of different things, defenses struggle to defend that.”
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke on Octavious Cooley
Cooley performs well in Grove Bowl action
The Rebels’ defense had some difficulty containing Cooley, who caught three passes for 46 yards in the Grove Bowl.
Cooley had no problem getting open in the middle as Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu connected with him each time there was space between Cooley and his defender.
“Cooley is a bright spot for the spring,” Longo said.
“He’s done a lot to try to get himself going, and I think he made a lot of plays this spring. And he’s a big boy making some athletic plays. He’s a great blend of physicality inside the box. He can play with anybody physically.”
Offensive coordinator Phil Longo on Cooley
Longo looks for Cooley to improve his stamina between now and the start of fall. “I think he will tell you, I would say, he needs to get himself in better shape,” Longo said. And instead of being able to go three, four, five plays in a row, he needs to be able to handle those six, seven, eight play drives that we have. I think when he gets tired, he’s not the same player, and I think he feels the same way.”
Cooley was one of nine targets for quarterbacks Ta’amu and freshman Matt Corral in the Grove Bowl.
Star wide receivers A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge will obviously garner a lot of attention from opposing defenses this fall, and that should give Cooley, along with Knox when he returns, plenty of playmaking opportunities.
Ten Rebels out of the spring finale
Austrian Robinson, Qaadir Sheppard, Dawson Knox, D.K. Buford, D’Vaughn Pennamon, Sean Rawlings, Eli Johnson, Jake VanRonzelen, Kweisi Fountain, and Josh Ricketts were held out of the Grove Bowl. A.J. Brown participated, but did so only on special teams as a punt returner.