USC Junior tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick has been ruled academically ineligible, according to Steve Sarkisian on Monday. JCF officially will not play in the 2014-15 season.
This hampers the SC pass game as only Randall Telfer, starting tight end, is the only TE who has solid game experience. With Cope-Fitzpatrick out, the Trojans have only 2 tight ends on scholarship. Telfer is also coming off of knee issues from 2013-14 that hopefully will not carry into the new upcoming season, but still a cause for concern without a reliable tight end in reserves.
Moving forward, the Trojans have freshman Bryce Dixon. The 6’4 250 pounder in one practice has already impressed the likes of Steve Sarkisian. “Unless something crazy happens, he’s shown me in one day that he’s going to be plenty good enough to play for us this fall,” Sarkisian said. Dixon is a former two-sport high school athlete from St. Boneventure high school in Ventura, California. While averaging 10.4 points per game, and 5.8 rebounds as Center for his prep basketball team, Dixon had 64 receptions with 14 touchdowns as tight end in 2013. While potentially being thrown immediately into the fire, one can rationalize that Dixon may have the skill set and athleticism to be one of the up and coming Trojan players to watch.
Senior Chris Willson also is on roster to assist in help at tight end. The 6’5 250 pounder is a walk-on whom transferred from Wake Forest last year. Wilson has minimal game experience with only one reception recorded, and is still fairly new to learning the tight end position from his natural position of quarterback. Willson will likely see most of his action on the special teams unit in attempts to shore up the void that Cope-Fitzpatrick leaves there as well.
Despite the absence Cope-Fitzpatrick leaves for the Trojans, SC still has enough athleticism and talent where his void shouldn’t be massively felt in the offense. Fullbacks Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner will give the Trojans options at tight end, likely in red zone situations. With 4 running backs and many carries to spread out between 4 highly talented guys so that no one gets antsy to transfer, rotating fullbacks is definitely a reasonable idea to get the most out of the talent and keep them engaged. At 5’11, 235 Jahleel Pinner isn’t ideally a great option to line up as tight end. However, it may be innovative enough to work in some scenarios. Soma Vainuku has faced knee injuries that have slowed him down during spring practice. Part of that may be correlated with his 6’0 270 pound frame. Not quite tall enough to line up at tight end as a receiver, Vainuku very well can serve as an effective blocker in short yardage situations and jumbo sets.
Ultimately the final word may result in Bryce Dixon seeing the most time out of the bunch. Dixon has the size of a near ideal tight end and the most familiarity with the position. Although in some circles it may be looked down upon for a freshman to potentially see so much action, Sarkisian may not have much a choice among his options.