The days of D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown terrorizing defenses in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium are over, but according to the young Ole Miss receiving corps, the Nasty Wide Outs are still in full swing.
The Rebels have reloaded with a room full of talented pass catchers including Braylon Sanders and Elijah Moore alongside potential game-changing freshmen Jonathan Mingo, Demarcus Gregory, Jordan Jernigan and Miles Battle. The puzzle piece adding a new dynamic to the Rodriguez offense is a true jack-of-all-trades in Tylan Knight.
The 5-foot-6 sophomore out of Pearl is listed as a running back on the official roster, but describing Knight as simply a ball carrier would be extremely inaccurate. Since arriving in Oxford last year, he’s moved from tailback to defensive back, then back over to offense, working mostly out of the slot during fall camp.
“I’m really enjoying it,” Knight said. “It’s different from what I played in high school. I didn’t really play it as a starting position, but I’m getting used to it.”
Something he doesn’t have to get used to is making plays. Knight helped lead the Pearl Pirates to their first ever 6A football championship in 2017. His late-game touchdown gave the Pirates the 21-17 win over Starkville in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
His versatility has put him all over the field in his short time with Rebels, but his performance in his slot debut in the Grove Bowl with 91 yards and a touchdown on five catches is a sign his new role could be a lasting one.
Knight has worked as a backup to starting slot Elijah Moore, coming in on four receiver sets to maximize weapons on the field in 10 personnel. So far in limited practice availability, he’s taken handoffs out of the backfield, run sweeps and reverses out of speed motion, and of course develop the route tree with corners, seams and bubble screens.
“It’ll be very dangerous. We’ve been saying this since day one, we’ll be very dangerous to the opposing team,” Knight said when asked about the potential of him and Moore on the field at the same time.
In Knight, Rich Rodriguez and wide receiver coach Jacob Peeler have a player to keep in mind when thinking of wrinkles to add to a game plan from week to week designed to beat a specific defense.
“We can get in four receiver sets, five receiver sets if we need to based on the skill sets or what’s needed on that particular play,” Peeler said. “I do think as the season progresses you’ll see guys develop. Obviously in Jerrion Ealy you see a guy who can go from backfield to slot as well as he gets more comfortable, too. We’ve got some options there, kind of those little jitterbug guys you can get the ball to in a bunch of different ways and let them do what they do best.”
Knight is part of a new emphasis on depth this year for the NWO. Jacob Peeler said that he wants have seven to nine receivers ready to play in every game this year rather than depending on four like last year.
“We have things within our group, within our offensive standard that we want to meet,” Peeler said. “I think it’s a long season and you saw last year we kind of limped across the finish line. A.J. (Brown) was playing 90-plus snaps a game. That’s not what you want. You want to be able to finish strong, so hopefully some of these young guys start to really develop and allow us to build that depth as the season progresses.”
A player like Tylan Knight is vital to the Rebel offense in 2019, and they’ll depend on him to do several things in the attack while Jerrion Ealy adjusts to the collegiate game.
“As far as just going out there and playing, they haven’t really shown me anybody or compared me to anybody,” Knight said. “Me personally, I don’t like being compared to anybody. I’m my own person so I just go out there and give it all I’ve got.”