Until they come up with a new name for it, the position Malcolm Johnson plays for Mississippi State will continue to be labeled as “tight end.” I suppose you could use the term “hybrid,” or even the old-school term “halfback.”
Johnson, a third-year sophomore, came to MSU as a receiver but was moved to tight end. He’s taken to the position nicely, finishing second on the team last fall in yards per catch (18.7). He had 11 catches for 206 yards and three touchdowns.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Johnson has perhaps the best hands on the team and runs tight routes, and he reminded everyone during Friday’s scrimmage what he’s capable of doing. He made five catches for 110 yards, hauling in a 27-yard touchdown and making a 42-yard grab streaking down the sideline.
Johnson can be found lining up like a tight end traditionally does – next to a tackle or just slightly offset. But he’ll also line up wide like a receiver.
MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson has to find ways to slow down Johnson – and his backup, Brandon Hill – every practice. It’s not easy.
“You have to determine if you’re going to treat them like a back in the backfield or if they’re a tight end attached, and you’re not in the backfield,” Wilson said. “They make (the offense) very, very multiple. And not only that, there’s two of them that can line up. You think you’re getting ’12’ personnel, and it’s empty. It really makes you pay attention.”
Johnson and Hill do not fit the traditional tight end mold, a mold that’s becoming outdated. More offenses are using their tight ends in the passing game, and to great effect – just look at Arkansas. Last season, Chris Gragg had 41 catches (third on the team) for 518 yards (fourth), and that was in an offense chock full of talented receivers.
MSU has a lot of receivers, too. In fact, three guys who had 25 or more catches last season are back, and there is a lot of young talent coming up. But Johnson will have a big role this fall.
“It’s like a new trend coming out, the dynamic tight end who can run and block at the same time,” Johnson said. “I think it’s going to help us a lot next year coming up.”
I asked Wilson if the tight end label is appropriate for Johnson and Hill, especially given all they (especially Johnson) can do.
“I guess we like labels, so you’ve got to call them both (tight ends),” Wilson said. “But they’re H guys, they’re move guys, so we treat them like that. Week to week it really varies.”