Rebel Roll Call: Overshadowed tight ends seek bigger role

Posted on Aug 23 2018 - 5:50am by Cooper Ruwe

With the Rebels’ first kickoff against Texas Tech less than two weeks away, Ole Miss looks set to have a solid offensive unit that includes strong players at the tight end position. Dawson Knox is tabbed as the starting tight end for the Rebels. However, fellow tight end Octavius Cooley is not to be overlooked.

As a former walk-on, Knox provides one of the most intriguing stories on the team. He was quarterback in high school and received little interest from SEC schools, partially because of a season-ending injury early in his senior campaign. After choosing to walk-on at Ole Miss, Knox was seemingly buried on the depth chart after three 4-star tight ends signed on to the Rebels’ 2016 recruiting class.

Dawson Knox pushes forward in pursuit of a first down during game against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns during the 2017 season. Ole Miss won 50-22. File photo By Taylar Teel

After the departure of All-American Evan Engram in 2017, many assumed that one of these promising talents would take over; the favorite among them was Cooley. However, Knox’s hard work and growing talent earned him the starting nod leading up to the 2017 season. He had a solid year, racking up 24 catches for 321 yards in 10 games, and in December he was awarded a full scholarship for his dedication and commitment to Ole Miss.

One year later, Knox is poised to be one of the top tight ends in the SEC and, potentially, the country. He has already been placed on the Mackey Award watch list for the nation’s most outstanding tight end and the Burlsworth Trophy watch list for the nation’s most outstanding player to start his career as a walk-on. On top of that, the NFL listed Knox as one of college football’s top 18 athletes to watch in 2018 thanks to his 6-foot-4, 250-pound frame and 40-yard dash time of 4.59 seconds.

All of this buildup comes in spite of the off-season surgery which was performed to repair a nagging foot injury that held Knox out for several periods in the 2017 season.

“I have so much confidence in my receivers,” Jordan Ta’amu said. “Because of the way we work during the offseason, the spring and the summer. That’s when we really built that chemistry.”

Cooley filled in for Knox as he recovered during off-season practices. Though Cooley has yet to have the Engram-level impact that many projected for him, his career is far from over. This off-season, Cooley was presented with the Eli Manning Award as the most improved offensive player during the team’s spring practices.

Cooley’s combination of size and speed adds an extra dimension to an already tantalizing Rebel offense. Head coach Matt Luke has even pondered the idea of two tight end sets, a rarity in modern spread offenses, to get both Knox and Cooley on the field at the same time.

“Me and my receivers have great connections,” Ta’amu said. “I’m super confident they’ll come down with the ball.”

The Rebel tight end group should bolster an already sound Ole Miss offensive unit.

Tight End Dawson Knox gains yards for the Rebels during the game against Auburn on October 8, 2017. Auburn won 44-23. Photo by Ariel Cobbert