There was a time when USC football had tight ends that were a force to be reckoned with. Now the Trojans feel fortunate to field the position at all.
While USC began the year with less-than-ideal tight end depth, the situation looked on the verge of improving going into 2015. Bryce Dixon was entering Year 2, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick was returning to eligibility and freshman Tyler Petite would be arriving in the fall.
Of course, the Trojans got yet another taste of counting chickens before they hatched this spring, when Dixon became indefinitely unavailable because of a “student-conduct issue.”
The safe assumption is that Dixon will miss at least the entirety of spring camp. Reports that he was, or could, be dismissed from the team leave his future in even more doubt.
The thing that is not in doubt is the dire state of USC’s tight end depth.
As was the case for 2014’s spring, Cope-Fitzpatrick represents the lone available scholarship player at the position. Connor Spears, a walk-on transfer, has become another valuable option with a strong camp performance thus far.
Still, there seems no end to the Trojans troubles at a position which used to be a particular strength.
In 2007, Fred Davis won the Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end. He led USC in receiving with 62 catches, receiving yardage with 881 yards and touchdowns with eight scoring grabs.Apr 13, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (88) during the spring game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Davis was a special talent, and expecting that kind of production from future tight ends would be unfair.
It remains, however, that the heights Davis reached puts the Trojans recent history at the position in harsh lighting.
A USC tight end has surpassed 300 receiving yards just twice in the seven years since he departed. The solid Anthony McCoy tallied 457 yards as a senior in 2009, while Xavier Grimble hit 316 yards as a sophomore in 2012.
In the seven years before Davis’ All-American season, the Trojans’ leading tight end failed to reach 300 yards just once.
In 2014, neither Dixon nor Randall Telfer eclipsed 200 yards.
This spring, the issue is not just production either.
The two available players have been stretched thin by the demands of the position, forcing head coach Steve Sarkisian to experiment with different formations to give them a break.
To put it plainly, the depth issue at tight end is a set back for the entire offense, and one that looks likely to continue to present a problem.
After all, there is no telling when Dixon will come back, and if he does, he will have missed out on valuable development this spring. It’s the same development that Cope-Fitzpatrick missed out on in 2014.
That means the Trojans will remain a step behind when it comes to getting the most out of the position for at least another year.
And so unfortunately, finding the next Fred Davis will have to wait.