One position Mississippi State should not have to worry about in the depth department is at tight end.
The Bulldogs had six tight ends on the roster this spring and another on the way in the fall. If needed there are also two former tight ends – Rufus Warren and Christian Holmes – who could return to the position if needed.
But I think MSU should be able to get through the season with seven tight ends. If not then something has gone terribly wrong – which it did last year. Gus Walley missed the entire season while Brandon Hill both missed the final six games due to injury forcing the redshirt to come off Artimas Samuel midway through the year.
Rising senior Malcolm Johnson has been a three year starter for the Bulldogs at tight end and has proven to be an effective weapon in the passing game. Johnson is especially dangerous in the red zone. I’ve long since contended that he has the best hands on the team. The only knock on Johnson is his inability to stay healthy. He’s missed a lot of games during his career but was able to play in all 13 last year.
There’s no question that when Johnson is involved in the offensive game plan then it makes State’s offense better. He wasn’t used a whole lot this spring but by now he’s already proven himself on the field. The coaching staff seemed to want to see what some of the younger guys could do.
Hill, also a fifth-year senior, returned from injury this spring but like Johnson, wasn’t used a whole lot. Johnson and Hill split first team reps and will both receive their share of reps in the fall. Hill is more of a traditional tight end with a big body and is better suited for blocking than Johnson is. But Hill is quite an athlete in his own right and has had several acrobatic catches in his career.
Although Walley missed last year while recovering from Tommy John surgery, he seemed to be trying to make up for lost time this spring. Walley was a workhorse this spring who caught just about everything thrown his way. He was consistent at practice as well as in the stadium scrimmages. Walley has not played in a game since high school in 2011 but he certainly didn’t show any rust this spring.
In fact, Walley might have been one of the most improved players I saw on the entire roster. He became a go-to option for quarterbacks and had several touchdowns of 50-plus yards in practice. If he keeps that up he could be a surprise player to watch out for in the fall.
Samuel is a specimen at 6-foot-2, 260-pounds and hardly any fat on him. What is unique about him is that while he’s a big guy, he’s still got the same soft hands he showed as a high school wide receiver. Unfortunately, Samuel did not see much action this spring. I’m not sure if it was injury or academics or what the reason was, but he did not dress out for several weeks of spring practice. He was back for the final few practices so he is still with the team.
B.J. Hammond made the transition to tight end after spending most of his redshirt freshman year at wide receiver. I thought all along during the recruiting process with Hammond’s frame and lack of speed that he’d eventually grow into a tight end and that’s exactly what occurred. Hammond reminds me a lot of Johnson early on in his career. He’ll be a mismatch issue for linebackers and is definitely a receiving tight end.
A familiar name showed up on the roster as a walk-on this spring. New Hope’s Lawrence Brown received some recruiting attention a few years ago but sort of fell off the radar. He’s a big guy with some even bigger feet. I wear a size 14 shoe and Brown’s got me beat by plenty. He made a few plays out there this spring and is a great looking walk-on.
I’m very interested to see how 6-foot-7, 265-pound JUCO transfer Darrion Hutcherson fits into this mix in the fall. I know JUCO guys are recruited to contribute right away but I think it would be in the Bulldogs best interest to redshirt him and have him for two years after Johnson and Hill graduate.