FULLY INVOLVED: Rebels want to make Engram bigger part of offense

Published 12:02 pm Monday, March 21, 2016

Statistically speaking, Evan Engram already has a case to be the best tight end that’s ever worn an Ole Miss uniform, which has his coaches and teammates in agreement about an obvious thought.

The rising senior needs to get more touches.

Engram will be one of the Rebels’ most experienced pass catchers this fall and perhaps quarterback Chad Kelly’s most familiar target now that Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core are gone. Damore’ea Stringfellow and Quincy Adeboyejo are back out wide, but the 6-foot-3, 227-pound Engram has a skill set going up against bigger linebackers and smaller safeties Ole Miss is trying to find more ways to utilize this spring.

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“(Head coach Hugh Freeze and I) have been talking about it since bowl practice,” Engram said. “He said, ‘You’ve got to put the work in.’ Just watching film, looking at defenses and what they offer in situations, what they put on film, and then I can see what I feel like I can be successful at whether it’s trips and they can go man and I can run a corner or if they go one high (safety), I can run up the seam. It’s different situations that I’ve got to be in control about.”

An afterthought in Ole Miss’ star-studded 2013 recruiting class, Engram has already been much more of a headache for opposing defenses than many thought possible. His 1,298 career receiving yards are the most by a tight end in program history, and he’s entering his fourth year as a starter second all-time in receptions (91) and touchdown catches (7).

He caught 38 passes last season, but the explosive plays over the middle were lacking. Engram finished with 464 receiving yards — 198 less than his sophomore campaign — with his yards per catch (12.2) and touchdowns (2) setting or tying career lows. His longest catch went for just 36 yards after he had receptions of at least 64 yards in each of the previous two seasons.

“You’ve seen glimpses of his best, but we need to find ways to get him the football more next year,” Freeze said. “Hopefully he’ll stay healthy and have a very solid senior campaign.”

Engram said he’s using this spring to build more of a rapport with Kelly, something both admitted was lacking when Kelly first grabbed the starting job last season. Kelly said the desire for a better working relationship is mutual between quarterback and a tight end who’s proven to be more than a safety valve.

“We’ve got to get him the ball a lot more,” Kelly said. “Last year, at first, we really didn’t have a groove together. This year, working in the offseason and talking with each other and really studying film and studying how each other works. He’s a freak athlete, and he’s got great hands.”

Engram, a three-time All-Southeastern Conference selection, could’ve skipped out on his senior season and joined Treadwell in this year’s NFL Draft but decided to stay in order to help the Rebels try to take the next step under Freeze following their most recent Sugar Bowl win — an SEC championship and perhaps more.

“We’re not going to settle for 10-2, 9-3 or whatever,” Engram said. “We had a great year and the Sugar Bowl was nice, but I’d give up all those trophies for that one playoff championship trophy in a heartbeat.”

Engram is working to do his part.

“I just can’t say I want the ball,” he said. “I’ve got to put the work in, and I’m definitely doing that right now and for the rest of the year I will be.”