Matt LaCosse, Jeff Cumberland, Michael Hoomanawanui. All recent Illinois tight ends, all in the NFL, all criminally underused by their respective offensive coordinators. LaCosse never topped 20 receptions in a season. Neither did Cumberland. Hoomanananui did bring in 25 receptions in 2008, but caught a combined four touchdowns over three starting seasons.
Enter Louis Dorsey, a 6-foot-6, fluid 240-pound athlete from Florida, and a decade of tight end talent and frustrations are actively being exercised. Dorsey, in his freshman campaign with a season’s worth of lollipop-armed quarterbacks lobbing him ducks, managed to haul in 22 receptions for 395 yards (more than any of the three previously named had as a season-high) and three touchdowns. Dorsey is a stud, and is primed to continue building off his freshman success.
In the tight end room with Dorsey is junior Caleb Reams, who is adept at creating mismatches and had a monster spring game within first-year offensive coordinator Rod Smith’s new scheme that will work tight ends into mismatches across the field. Reams doesn’t have the stature of Dorsey but could be a valuable moving asset, creating a viable threat in the passing game while possessing the size and experience to work downfield and spring runners.
Also at the position are Bobby Walker and Griffin Palmer, valuable depth pieces who offer value on special teams as big athletic bodies — something that has hurt Illinois since Zook’s athletes left Champaign.
Getting to campus right about now is one of my favorite prospects from the 2018 class, another Florida product: 6-foot-5 Daniel Barker. Barker is a big-bodied 240 pounds before even getting his “Body by Boese”, and turned down Kentucky and Pitt to try and follow Dorsey’s example. Barker is more of a classic tight end, with the ability to put his hand on the ground and help set an edge, but he possesses very good athleticism that should allow him to play the seams and flags like Dorsey.
The tight end group looks much like the rest of the team: very good freshmen out front, decent depth gaining experience into the upper class, and then a nice prospect arriving in June. But like other position groups covered, it’s thin and needs more depth. To accomplish this, Lovie and tight ends coach Corey Patterson have one in the bag and one they’re battling the big boys for.
Griffin Moore from Bloomington, Illinois is already committed to the class of 2019, and will fill that super-back role currently owned by Caleb Reams. Moore plays quarterback for his high school team, so while he’s a very nice-looking athlete with a huge frame, it’s tough to take much tight end from his high school film. Luckily for Moore, he’ll get a chance to sit and develop for a year or two to better refine his skills.
(Side note: That’s an awesome pattern that should start to establish itself.)
The prize recruit at the position is Jahleel Billingsley from Phillips in Chicago, an elite-level athlete in Jeff Cumberland’s frame. Billingsley has been impressing in camps all spring, and despite being relatively raw as a tight end, he’s garnered interest from Florida to Ohio State to Penn State to Auburn to Alabama — so yeah, that’s the type of prospect we’re talking about here. And, some thought Billingsley could already be a member of #ILLgang19 by now, as he was reportedly close to popping for Lovie in April before getting sweet on the Florida Gators. A trip this weekend to Penn State should be equally impressive, but when the blue-blood programs start to bleed together, can he come back to the home state that offers the most profound relationships?
In Rod Smith’s offense, a player like Billingsley could play some during his freshman year just to get some experience and a taste for what’s to come, while giving Illinois two athletic monsters at tight end at the same time, something Oklahoma has done in recent years.
The future of the position is in good hands. No pun intended.