With two months till the season opener at Tulane, let’s take a position-by-position look at the Panthers' heading into Fall camp.
Today’s position preview will be the tight ends. Head coach Butch Davis has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to young talent at the position.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise; he's been known for grooming players at the position for over two decades.
All stats listed are for the 2018 season. Projected starter(s) are in bold.
Returning: Sterling Palmer (So.) 6-6, 240, 26 catches for 279 yards and two touchdowns
David O’Meara (So.) 6-5, 250, zero catches, played in seven games with two starts
Ivan Thomas (So.)- 6-4, 221, seven catches for 44 yards
Newcomers: Joe Hocker (Fr.) 6-5, 245, Three-star recruit
Jackson McDonald (Fr.) 6-5. 220, Preferred walk-on
Heading into Fall: Butch Davis has a long and storied history of having talented tight ends on his roster, going back to his time at Miami.
Now, his son Drew has the task of being the position coach at FIU and at his disposal are a talented crop of players.
What’s scary for C-USA teams, is they’re all underclassmen and haven't scratched the surface of their potential.
Summary: By the end of the season, Sterling Palmer could very well be the second-best tight end in the conference behind FAU’s Harrison Bryant.
The 6-6, Virginia native is the son of former Washington Redskin, Sterling Palmer Sr.
The younger Palmer emerged from fall camp last season as the starter and never looked back. He was named to the all-freshman team in 2018 and was just announced as a John Mackey Award Preseason Watch List.
His role in the offense is especially crucial, given the size, or lack thereof at the receiver spot.
He finished second among C-USA tight ends in passer rating when targeted, providing a 113.0 rating for quarterbacks James Morgan and Christian Alexander, according to Pro Football Focus.
Marshall's Armani Levias leads returning CUSA tight ends with a 116.1 passer rating when targeted. pic.twitter.com/PAduo5hW5C— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 20, 2019
Behind him are a pair of players who were three-star recruits in David O’Meara and Ivan Thomas. O’Meara appeared mostly as a blocking tight end last season, while the 6-4 Thomas is a hybrid tight end/wide receiver, who gives the unit another big-bodied target.
Joe Hocker out of Cincinnati, Ohio is a talented prospect in his own right, who most likely will redshirt.
Preferred walk-on Jackson McDonald is an intriguing athlete, who played quarterback in high school, but is far from game ready.
Position Grade: B - The only thing keeping this group from a higher grade is its youth and relative inexperience.
Expect Ivan Thomas to see more targets in 2019. The former two-sport start at Miami Palmetto High, has the ability to win jump balls against smaller defensive backs, especially given his prep school basketball background.
Also, with the younger tight ends a year older, expect different parts of Rich Skrosky’s offense to be in play.
A majority of the plays that required backside cut blocks from the tight ends last season, were done with Daquane Wilkie, because the tight ends weren’t fully developed with the technique till later in the season.
Palmer and Thomas are two legitimate receiving threats from the tight end position, while O’Meara is a well-rounded player, and could see a few passes his way in 2019.
The unit is in great shape being led by the Palmer, and by the end of the season, he may be in contention for the Mackey Award.