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Summer Position Preview: Tight Ends

The tight end position will look more of the same heading into the 2018 season.

Arizona v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Last season, the tight end was more of a forgotten position in the passing game. Will the Trojans’ position group bounce back this season?

The tight end position will be particularly interesting to look at heading into USC’s 2018 season.

With most football teams, tight ends stay hidden in the background of the passing game. That was certainly the case for last year’s group, as Tyler Petite, who started most of the year, only ended the season with 305 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Daniel Imatorbhebhe, the tight end who entered the 2016 season as the starter, did have a promising first game with 119 receiving yards, but was quickly shut down by head coach Clay Helton due to a nagging hip injury.

Western Michigan v USC
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 02: Daniel Imatorbhebhe #88 of the USC Trojans runs after his catch against the Western Michigan Broncos at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 2, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

However, with the hiring of Tim Drevno as USC’s new running backs coach, the tight ends should be much more involved in the passing game. Drevno has coached the versatile position throughout his career and made it come to life while serving as the offensive coordinator for Michigan the past three years. Drevno turned tight end Jake Butt into one of the top tight end prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft because he was so productive in Ann Arbor under Drevno’s playcalling. Most recently in the 2017 season, Drevno led tight end Sean McKeon to lead the Wolverines in receptions.

Yes, Drevno only holds the title as the running backs coach for the Trojans, but after struggling with playcalling in 2017, offensive coordinator Tee Martin will want some fresh new insight from his assistants. Expect the tight ends to become much more involved in the passing game.

Projected Starters

Barring any injuries in practice, both Imatorbhebhe and Petite should open the 2018 season as co-starters, so you won’t see any change in terms of who is on the field at tight end.

Who has the edge to pull away as the eventual starter at the position? Imatorbhebhe is the more talented player, but is still recovering from that hip injury and was held out of spring camp. He is going to have to come back strong in order to earn that starting spot because Petite is now the veteran here and has the seniority to back it up.

Utah v USC
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: Tight end Tyler Petite #82 of the USC Trojans beats defensive back Marquise Blair #13 of the Utah Utes into the end zone for a touchdown in the first quarter of the game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 14, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

I expect both tight ends to form a committee and split reps to begin the season. Imatorbhebhe should emerge as the eventual starting tight end if he comes back healthy, but it should be all about who establishes a better rapport with the new quarterback.

Backups

The backups to Imatorbhebhe and Petite are actually a mirror image of the starters. Sophomores Josh Falo and Erik Krommenhoek both showed well in spring camp, with the former making some nice catches and the latter blocking well on the field.

Falo will back up Imatorbhebhe and Krommenhoek will back up Petite, so it is a toss up on which one will get more playing time. However, if you are looking for the backup who will make more plays on the field, it would have to be Falo. His receiving talent oozes potential and could be a crucial part of the future for the Trojans.

Players to Watch

Imatorbhebhe is an interesting case simply due to the fact that he is coming off a severe hip injury. He’s shown that he has the talent to become a special tight end, but fans should watch for how he recovers from the injury and if he can get back to his 2016 form.

Falo should also be taken note of because of his receiving abilities. His frame is huge at 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds and should be a monster red-zone target once Imatorbhebhe departs USC. Every rep he has this season should be closely looked at to see how Tee Martin plans to use him on the field in the future.

Most importantly, whichever tight end who establishes the most chemistry with the eventual starter at quarterback is going to make a huge impact this season. Chemistry is essential to a good passing game, and USC tight ends haven’t had much of that in the past years.

Here’s to hoping that changes this season.