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Ole Miss tight end Dawson Knox set for larger role as Evan Engram’s successor

Dawson Knox’s career at Ole Miss has consisted of a redshirt year and one tackle.

His role is about to become much more active.

Knox is going through his third training camp with the Rebels at the top of the depth chart at tight end, a loaded position considering what Ole Miss is trying to replace. Former All-American Evan Engram started 42 games there and set the school’s career records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches by a tight end before being selected in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft by the New York Giants.

It’s not pressure as much as it is gratefulness Knox feels in following arguably the best player to ever line up at the position for Ole Miss.

“Nobody can replace Evan Engram,” said Knox, who walked on to the team before the 2015 season. “He was a special player, but it is humbling to have that position to be able to fill or try to fill his shoes this year. He was a great mentor, great friend and he did some great things last year. I’m really excited to go out there and try to do some of the things he did.”

That may be difficult for Knox or any tight end still on the roster. Engram’s unique blend of size and speed at 6-3 and 235 pounds turned him into a nightmare matchup for bigger linebackers and smaller safeties in the passing game, but coaches believe Knox possesses a skill set that can also create some problems for defenses with a few differences here and there.

“I think Dawson is a very athletic guy that can create some mismatches, so I’m hoping it will be similar,” interim coach Matt Luke said. “But I’m hoping we can use that guy as a blocker and be very physical, maybe put him on the ball and maybe (isolate) some linebackers. Maybe be a little more versatile and not always running routes. I think we can do that.”

At 6-4 and 250 pounds, Knox has the frame to mix it up more often in the running game. He’s using camp to brush up on that part of his game.

“I’ve been used to some of the route running and some of the catching. I feel like that’s my strong suit right now,” Knox said. “My focus this camp is really to start working on the blocking game, get low under some people’s pads and move some people off the ball.”

But Knox will have some help in trying to keep the production flowing at the position.

Fellow walk-on Ty Quick (6-3, 264) and redshirt freshman Jacob Mathis (6-4, 246) are similar body types that bring more physicality to the position while converted quarterback Jason Pellerin (6-4, 237) and redshirt freshman Gabe Angel (6-3, 238) are more hybrid options that have stood out early in camp with their playmaking ability, Luke said. Octavious Cooley, a sophomore, is suspended indefinitely because of a violation of team rules.

Knox said he hasn’t noticed any change of the tight ends’ role in first-year coordinator Phil Longo’s offense with Longo tailoring formations and calls based on the personnel on the field.

“I really just trust the system and trust Coach Longo,” Knox said. “He’s going to put us in the right positions.”

But Knox said he’s still battling for his position despite what the depth chart shows — an approach he said he learned to take from his predecessor.

“You’ve got to come out every day with a mindset that you’re not No. 1 but you’re fighting for that spot so you can really just better yourself every day,” he said. “I feel like the moment I start getting content with it, that’s when I’ll start slipping up. I’ve really got to go out with the mentality that I’m fighting for that spot.”