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Tight ends look to play larger role in Rebels’ offense this season

Tight ends look to play larger role in Rebels’ offense this season

OXFORD, Miss. — The Ole Miss season opener against Memphis on August 31 is quickly approaching, and when the Rebels take the field for the first game of 2019, it is likely fans will see more action from the tight ends than last season.

During the offseason, head coach Matt Luke made several changes to the offensive coaching staff. The Rebels hired offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez and tight ends coach Calvin Magee. This past spring, the team installed Rich Rod’s offense which puts more focus on tight ends and running backs than last year’s system under former offensive coordinator Phil Longo. 

Coaches Rodriguez and Magee talk tight ends

We recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Coach Rod about the tight ends and his offensive scheme. 

“We’ve kind of evolved over the years,” Coach Rod said. “We used to be mostly just four wideouts, but now we’re more 11 personnel – three wideouts and a tight end. We’ll have two backs on occasion. We’re a little bit more multiple, formation-wise, than we’ve been in the past.” 

Coach Magee emphasized the importance of the Rebels’ tight ends. “The way we run this offense, tight ends are going to be huge because we use them in so many different combinations and ways,” said Magee.

Veterans Cooley and Pellerin ready to contribute

Octavious Cooley

Tight End Octavious Cooley makes a catch against Arkansas in 2018. (Photo: Cameron Brooks, Ole Miss Athletics)

Seniors Octavious Cooley and Jason Pellerin, who have waited patiently behind NFL draftees Evan Engram and Dawson Knox, made up the two-deep heading into fall camp, and now it’s time for them to shine in their final season in Oxford. 

Cooley has high expectations for 2019. “We’re ready to go out with a bang this season,” he said. “We want to get bowl eligible. We’re going to try and get that.” 

Cooley has set personal goals he’d like to attain for his final season in Oxford, but more than anything the talented tight end just wants to give maximum effort every game.

I just want to make myself go out there and leave it all out there on the field. Just leave it all out on the field every game.

Octavious Cooley on his senior season

As for Pellerin, he, too, is excited about the role of the tight ends. “With this new scheme we have, I feel like it involves tight ends a lot more, which is pretty exciting—especially for Cooley and I—so it’s going to be awesome,” he said. 

Jason Pellerin

Jason Pellerin (7) looks forward to the TEs being used more. (Photo: Josh McCoy)

Pellerin has been working on his blocking a lot in the offseason to maximize his playing time this fall. “I feel like blocking in general, whether that’s perimeter or inside the line in the trenches, it’ll really take my game to the next level. I’ve been really focusing on that,” he added. 

Pellerin enjoys working with Coach Magee and praised the tight ends coach during Media Day.

I love him (Magee). He has Louisiana roots, so I kind of connect with that. He keeps it real, and he keeps it down to earth. I love it.

Jason Pellerin on TE Coach Calvin Magee

Pennamon joins tight ends room

In an interesting move as of late, running back D’Vaughn Pennamon, who missed all of 2018 with a knee injury, has been added to the tight end group. 

After Pellerin entered concussion protocol recently, and with a very solid running back room of Scottie Phillips, Snoop Conner, Jerrion Ealy and Isaiah Woullard, the Rebels moved Pennamon to the new position. He began practicing there Monday and will work as an H-back who can flex out and catch passes.

D'Vaughn Pennamon

D’Vaughn Pennamon rushes the ball in 2017. (Photo: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)

Pennamon talked with the media after Wednesday’s practice and discussed his transition to the new spot. ”For me, it’s just the little details,” he said about the adjustments he is making. “Not the plays, not the routes. Just knowing that all our contact is going to be in your face now. I don’t get to come from 5 yards deep and then figure out who I got. I’ve got to know who I’ve got and when I get him I’ve got to be physical,” he added. 

Pennamon described his conversation with the coaches about the move. “It was more so about me trying to help the team, doing whatever I could,” he began. “They came to me and they were just like, ‘Hey, it’s pretty deep in the running back room. It’s great competition and you’re doing really well. I like how you’re doing. Would you be opposed to moving to possibly get more playing time and really work on your craft?’” said Pennamon.

I said, if it’s to help the team and to better myself and I can get some film, I’m down for it. I’ll do it. Whatever it takes. I just want to win. 

D’Vaughn Pennamon on the move to tight end

Coach Rodriguez discussed Pennamon’s position change Wednesday after practice. ”He had some other guys in front of him. He’s a great young man. He’s eager to play. For him to get a chance to get on the field, the move was probably necessary. He welcomed it. He’s got a great attitude,” said Rodriguez.

Playing with multiple personnel sets is something we’re going to look at doing. It really depends on if we have the type of guys we can win with, and we’re giving him a shot there.

Coach Rodriguez on Pennamon’s move to TE

Wherever he plays on the field this season, Pennamon says his knee is not a concern. “I have no doubt in my mind about my knee. I like to cut on it. It doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t bother. It’s not sore. It doesn’t swell up on me or anything. I’m just looking forward to actually getting some contact,” he said.

Sophomores Alex Faniel and Jonathan Hess are also in the tight end room this fall. Faniel was recruited as a quarterback but was moved over to tight end last season. Similarly, Hess was recruited to play outside linebacker but was switched to tight end at the end of spring, so there’s not a lot of experience behind the two seniors. 

Last season, the Rebels only had 25 completions to their tight ends across Knox, Cooley, and Pellerin. With Coach Rod’s new system installed and the expertise of Coach Magee as tight ends coach, we fully expect those numbers to go up this fall as Coach Rod looks to take full advantage of the tight ends this season. 

About The Author

Derrell Hart

Derrell has covered Ole Miss athletics in the past for Rebels247 at 247Sports. He attended Delta State University where he graduated with a B.S. in Biology. He is currently pursuing his Pharm.D. at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy with an expected graduation of May, 2020.

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