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Walk-ons, youngsters following Evan Engram at tight end for Ole Miss

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the eighth of a 10-part series breaking down each position on Ole Miss’ football team entering fall camp. A different position will be featured each day leading up to the Rebels’ first day of practice Wednesday.

Ole Miss has the unenviable task of replacing an All-American at tight end.

This spring gave the Rebels’ coaching staff its first chance to evaluate what’s left at the position with Evan Engram off to the NFL after the three-year starter used a unique skill set to finish with more receptions and receiving yards than any tight end in school history. Sophomores Octavious Cooley and Jason Pellerin, who’s making the move from quarterback, are in line to get snaps this season, but it’s a pair of walk-ons that enter fall camp at the top of the depth chart.

Dawson Knox and Ty Quick have separated themselves for the time being. Knox is the No. 1 option heading into the fall after seeing action in one game last season as a backup long snapper, but the 6-foot-4, 243-pounder impressed in the spring to rise up the depth chart. Coaches praised Knox’s ability to do a little bit of everything as well as his knowledge of the position despite having played just six games in his career.

“With his weight and his height and to run the way he does, it’s a mismatch problem for people,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo said this spring. “He catches the ball well and run blocks well. … He can handle the things we do at that position.”

Quick is listed as Knox’s backup after the 6-3, 264-pounder played in every game last season as a reserve tight end. He also contributed on special teams.

Cooley shared first-team reps with Knox this spring. While it may be hard for any of them to duplicate the headaches the speedy Engram gave bigger linebackers and smaller safeties in the passing game, coaches believe the big-bodied Cooley can be a different kind of matchup problem while giving Ole Miss a more physical in-line blocker at 6-3 and 257 pounds.

“Cooley is a physical specimen, and he plays that way,” Longo said. “I just think he fits what we do at tight end. You want every position on the field to be a physical position, but you rely and depend on the offensive line and tight end to be very physical, and he is definitely that.”

The wild card is Pellerin, who’s working on making the position change with Shea Patterson and Jordan Ta’amu entrenched as the top two quarterbacks. Most of Pellerin’s snaps a season ago came as a chance-of-pace runner in short-yardage and goal-line packages (29 carries, 90 yards, three touchdowns), a skill set that could allow the Rebels to line the 6-4, 235-pounder up at different spots on the field similar to the way they used Engram.

“Pellerin is more of a hybrid kid,” Longo said. “We’re kind of using him in a lot of roles because, one, he’s bright enough to handle it and, two, he’s just a football player. He’s a playmaker.”

Redshirt freshmen Jacob Mathis, who’s coming back from a broken foot that kept him out of spring practices, and Gabe Angel are other options that could provide depth at a position where the Rebels will need some help from everybody to try to replace Engram’s production.