The Trojans have not had a dynamic tight end for a while now (Tight ends only amassed 194 yards in 2018, averaging to just over 16 yards a game). Tyler Petite, a primarily run blocking tight end had held the incumbent spot for the past years. Now, Petite is out of the building. It opens the door for new blood and more dynamic play at the tight end position. But for the first time in years, USC fans must ask: do we really want a dynamic tight end?
Under conventional offenses run by Tee Martin and Clay Helton, tight ends are supposed to be a key part of the intermediate passing game. They serve as all around players who run block while also running routes. But last year, USC tight ends struggled to establish a truly dominant run or pass game.
Now under Graham Harrell’s air raid system, tight ends could see a decline in playing time in favor of receivers. At North Texas, Harrell often featured four or even five receiver packages. With a receiving stable rivaled only by the one in Tuscaloosa, Trojan fans may be looking for more playing time for receivers, not tight ends.
But when Harrell does decide to go with a tight end, it will likely be a choice between Erik Krammenhoek or Josh Falo.
Looking at some of Graham Harrell’s film at North Texas, it is clear that he prefers to run the ball when there is a tight end on the field. Run blocking has been Krammenhoek’s bread and butter, so when 84 is on the field, Harrell will likely be dialing up runs or short throws to take advantage of Krammenhoek’s blocking abilities. That said, Krammenhoek got a lot of reps as a route runner during spring training as USC’s tight end depth chart was thinned by injuries. It would be a happy surprise to see Krammenhoek eclipse 150 receiving yards on the season.
Though Harrell liked to implement his tight ends as blockers at North Texas, he never had an athlete like Josh Falo. Falo, a 6’ 6”, 230 pound junior will have a physical advantage over almost any player he sees in the college level. His route running and speed are silky smooth for the tight end position, and he began to emerge in the latter half of 2018. With Falo’s uncanny ability in the passing game, Harrell may split Falo out wide to misdirect and confuse opposing defenses. With Falo in the fold, opposing defenses will have their hands full in coverage.
Other than Krammenhoek and Falo, however, the Trojans are thin at tight end. Chris Caulk is the only reserve with experience, and he is a walk on who has never played a snap of college football. The Trojans do have two talented freshman tight ends in Jude Wolfe and Ethan Rae. On the surface, Wolfe seems to fit the mold of a big target in the middle of the field. He has the basketball background that is so coveted for the ability to box out and get contested catches. Rae is built like a tank and plays like it. Both will likely jump Caulk on the depth chart and find some playing time over the course of the season.
The Trojans don’t have much depth at tight end, but the Trojan offense has not relied heavily on the position in years. Under Harrell, tight ends will just have to do their jobs and play their roles. Any occasional flash of brilliance will be a cherry on top.