The 2015 season was a season of change for the Southern Miss Golden Eagles with a winning season, C-USA West Division title, a trip to a bowl, and one of the most electric offenses in the nation.
One change that did not stick in 2015 came on the offensive side of the ball. There was an expectation that an increased use of the tight end in the passing game was in the cards. Due to a series of injuries, better options at wide receiver, and a game plan that involved the running backs in the passing game more often, Southern Miss ended the season with only 13 passes caught by tight ends.
Though Todd Monken and a significant portion of the Southern Miss coaching staff is elsewhere this spring, there is added hope that 2016 is the year of the tight end in Hattiesburg.
Currently, Southern Miss has a total of seven tight ends on the roster for spring practice. Of the seven on the roster, only three made an impact on the offense last fall. Senior Ricky Parks, junior Taylor Marini, and sophomore Jay'Shawn Washington combined to make eight starts at tight end last fall.
Washington is the player to watch moving into the 2016 season. Detractors would mention that he is only 6-1 and he only made two catches during his sophomore season. The immediate counter is that he made two catches for 50 yards and a touchdown in his only game played last fall, versus Mississippi State. He looked excellent and ready to step forward as a receiving asset, but an injury ended his season quickly.
Here he is catching a touchdown versus the Bulldogs at the 2:31 mark.
The sophomore has an NFL pedigree with his grandfather playing in the NFL for the Packers, but has to prove he is a tight end that can play in both the run and pass games.
Parks is an enormous tight end that has the size to be another tackle on the field in the running game. Before making the switch to tight end, he was expected to see playing time on the defensive line. The move to tight end worked out for the 270 pounder, as he made three starts and caught five passes for 88 yards. The former Auburn tight end may not get many targets in his direction, but he will be a key part of the Southern Miss rushing attack this fall.
Targeted more than any other tight end on the roster last fall (16 targets) Marini should fit in well with Jay Hopson's offense. Despite being targeted so many times, Marini was only able to corral six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown for a 31.6% catch rate. That rate was the lowest of any player on the roster.
Marini must improve his catch rate if he wants to stay on the field in 2016.
Julian Allen was brought in along with Marini from the JUCO ranks, but a back injury took out his entire 2015 season. He is a talented player that could easily find his way to the top of the depth chart, but injuries in back to back seasons make it a bit hard to put faith in him.
If Allen is able to recover from his back injury, he gives Southern Miss four tight ends that they can count on this fall.
Another interesting prospect is 6-7 junior Rusty Clark. He was a JUCO player that signed with Houston in 2015. He left the Cougars and is now part of the Golden Eagles. Clark is eligible immediately and could force himself onto the depth chart with a strong spring.
Clark seems to be enjoying his time at Southern Miss so far.
The future at tight end is with redshirt freshmen William Potosky III and B.J. Bailey. Due to the logjam at the top of the depth chart, neither should be expecting much playing time until at least the 2017 season. Giving both of these players another year of college football to grow will be very beneficial down the road, especially with Potosky's 6-5, 225 pound frame.
For a group that only saw 28 targets last fall, expect the Golden Eagles tight ends to become an integral part of the offense in 2016.