USC Football 2016 Preview: Breaking Down the Tight Ends

October 24, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans tight end Tyler Petite (82) is hit out of bounds by Utah Utes defensive back Marcus Williams (20) during the second half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
October 24, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans tight end Tyler Petite (82) is hit out of bounds by Utah Utes defensive back Marcus Williams (20) during the second half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

USC football has had more trouble than production from tight ends in recent years. The 2016 group will look to change that.

It has been almost a decade since USC football has had significant offensive output from the tight end position. Turn the clock back to the 2007 season to find the most-recent success from the position.

Those were the glory days. The land of Troy was flowing with prosperity back in ’07 with Pete Carroll, John David Booty, Taylor Mays, Clay Matthews and a Rose Bowl Trophy. In the midst of USC’s winning ways that season stood senior tight end Fred Davis.

Davis led USC in every major receiving category with 62 catches, 881 receiving yards, and eight touchdown grabs. As a result, he became the first, and only, Trojan in school history to win the John Mackey Award, which is given annually to the most outstanding tight end in the nation.

Since the days of Davis at tight end, it is safe to say that the offensive production at the position over the past nine years for USC has been lackluster, at best.

Only one tight end since 2007 has surpassed the 400-yard receiving mark — Anthony McCoy had 457 in 2009.

In more recent years, issues such as academic ineligibility and off-the-field conduct issues have also halted the position’s success.

Some prime, and very recent, examples of this are ex-tight ends Bryce Dixon and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick.

Offensive production at tight end over the past nine years for USC has been lackluster, at best.

Dixon, a former four-star recruit, was expected to be a vital contributor at tight end for the Trojans, but a student-conduct issue led to his removal from the team — and ultimately the university. Cope-Fitzpatrick’s struggles academically ultimately kept him away from the field for USC.

In 2015, the USC tight end corps, which was comprised mainly of Tyler Petite and Taylor McNamara, combined for 27 catches, 228 receiving yards, and a total of five touchdown receptions.

Entering this upcoming season, USC appears to have bolstered the tight end unit via transfer and the acquisition of a highly-rated prospect.

Here’s a look at the 2016 USC tight ends and a preseason overview on what the position will provide production-wise for the Trojan offense:

Who’s back: Taylor McNamara (RS-SR), Tyler Petite (SO)

Who’s gone: No one

Who’s new: Cary Angeline, Daniel Imatorbhebhe (TRANSFER)

McNamara’s final ride

McNamara, a redshirt senior, transferred to USC last fall after three seasons at Oklahoma. Upon arriving on campus, McNamara found himself deep in the tight end depth chart entering 2015.

However, due to the previously mentioned losses of Dixon and Cope-Fitzpatrick during the offseason, McNamara climbed the depth chart and almost immediately became the starting tight end for the Trojan offense.

SEE ALSO: Projecting USC’s Depth Chart for 2016

Statistically, McNamara made 12 catches last season for a total of 83 yards; his four touchdown receptions were tied for second-most on the team in 2015.

Standing at 6-foot-5, 245-pounds, McNamara was primarily an asset to the USC offense last season as a blocker at the line of scrimmage.

McNamara is set to open the regular season as the Trojans’ starting tight end. It will be interesting to see if his role once again primarily consists of blocking, or if he opens up offensively as a pass-catcher, particularly in the red zone where he was effective when used last year.

The pass catching prodigy

As a true freshman in 2015, Petite had 15 catches for a total of 145 receiving yards and a single score.

During his first-year, Petite mainly undertook a backup role to McNamara, however he did appear in all 14 of USC’s games last season.

When compared to McNamara, Petite is a much more offensively-focused tight end. This offseason, Petite has put his route-running and pass-catching ability on display.

SEE ALSO: Five Takeaways From The First Week of USC Fall Camp

Throughout the passing drills of the player-run-practices this summer, Petite was active in making plays. In the opening days of Fall Camp, he has put on display his ability to get deep into a defense and make impressive catches. He’s also found the end zone regularly early on in these practices.

Should Petite continue his gradual development, it wouldn’t be surprising if he garners more and more playing time over the course of his sophomore campaign — possibly even challenging McNamara for the starting spot at some point.

Transfer looking for an impact role 

Imatorbhebhe was another tight end transfer for the Trojans in the fall of 2015. Due to NCAA-eligibility standards, Imatorbhebhe was not permitted to play for USC in the 2015 season after transferring from Florida. As a result, Imatorbhebhe was forced to redshirt his first year.

A former three-star prospect out of Suwanee, Georgia, Imatorbhebhe has exhibited a versatile skill set offensively this camp.

During the first week of Fall Camp, Imatorbhebhe made several impressive deep, juggling catches downfield. These Fall Camp drills have also seen Imatorbhebhe present himself as a threat in the red zone, as he has pulled in scores near the goal line.

When he makes his college football debut this fall, it will be interesting to see how Imatorbhebhe is installed into the tight end rotation. It will also be worth noting how he handles the opening opportunities he is given in game action.

As a redshirt freshman, if Imatorbhebhe produces this season, he can become a fixture at the tight end position for years to come.

The big-bodied freshman

One of the more notable signings of this past recruiting class was Cary Angeline, a four-star tight end hailing from Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.

During summer PRPs, Angeline was active in the 11-on-11 passing drills. To start Fall Camp, Angeline has made big receptions, most of which have come in between the numbers, down the middle of the field.

For a freshman, Angeline’s large 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame is something to be optimistic about as he continues to make physical progression in years to come.

While Angeline’s playing time may be scarce this fall, it is possible that he may make appearances in certain offensive packages and on special teams.

SEE ALSO: 5 Freshmen Who Could Start For USC In 2016

In seasons to come, Angeline may very well develop into a fine tight end — with a large physical stature — for the Trojans. However, expect the freshman to either redshirt this fall or find himself on the field in some very specific packages.

Style to match

This season, followers of USC Football can be sure to expect much more activity out of the tight end slot than in recent years.

Among the notable takeaways from Fall Camp and PRPs, has been USC’s running an alarmingly high amount of plays out of the shotgun formation; which means the ball is more likely to be spread around more liberally this season than in the past. In the shotgun, having the element of a versatile tight end can be pivotal in so many ways.

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USC’s highly-anticipated run game could also be beneficial to the tight ends’ production this season.

If the Trojans are able to effectively establish the run, expect play action opportunities to arise, with the tight ends being primary targets down the middle of the field.

The Trojans have more depth at the position than they have had in quite sometime.

A block-first tight end like McNamara will be nicely complemented by a pass-catcher in Petite — and possibly Imatorbhebhe.

With such depth, USC has the ability to smash and dash at the tight end spot.

Now it’s a wait to see how these promising pieces are utilized.