Jason Pellerin was listed as Ole Miss’ No. 2 quarterback last season, but it was true freshman Shea Patterson who took over as the starter after Chad Kelly went down with an ACL tear. The fact that Hugh Freeze ripped the redshirt off of his star quarterback recruit for the final three games suggested that the coaches didn’t trust Pellerin to be a full-time quarterback.
That doesn’t mean he can’t contribute to the team in another capacity, though. During a press conference last week, Freeze announced that Pellerin will spend part of spring camp learning a new position: tight end.
For now, the move seems to be experimental. The Ole Miss Spirit reports that Pellerin is splitting reps between quarterback and tight end.
Freeze has experimented with plugging players into new positions before, often with middling success. Jeremy Liggins never saw much of the field after transitioning from tight end to offensive tackle and Derrick Jones ended up moving back to defensive back after an experiment at wide receiver. It’s understandable that Ole Miss supporters might be wary of shuffling players between positions. Still, there are several reasons why exploring the possibility of a Pellerin position switch actually makes a lot of sense.
Pellerin has proven he’s an asset with the ball in his hands.
The 6-4, 230-pound Pellerin flashed his athleticism last season as the Rebels’ short-yardage and red-zone rushing quarterback, carrying the ball 29 times for for 90 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s one of our better 22 players. He needs to be on the field,” Freeze said during his presser. “That’s my objective, that’s my goal.”
Of course, questions remain as to Pellerin’s pass-catching skills and overall ability to adapt to the tight end spot, although his knowledge of the playbook as a quarterback should aid in that adaptation.
The tight end position is quietly one of the thinnest on the roster.
Former All-American Evan Engram, who just a few days ago blazed a 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, has moved on after four years as the go-to tight end. Redshirt freshman Jacob Mathis is out for at least the spring with a broken foot, which means sophomore Octavious Cooley and redshirt freshman Gabe Angel are currently the only active scholarship players at the position.
Obviously the QB position has depth issues of its own, as Pellerin and Patterson are the only guys in that group with Division I playing experience. However junior college transfer Jordan Ta’amu has apparently shown promise in the opening days of spring practice. If Ta’amu can prove his capability as a backup, Freeze might feel comfortable enough to roll the dice with Pellerin at tight end.
“We have to see how the quarterback room shakes out... It does hinge some on if you have the quarterback spot taken care of,” Freeze said.
There is precedent for this type of transition.
Former Rebel Robert Lane made the same switch from quarterback to tight end and ended up carving out a solid college career at his new position. In his first year on the job, Freeze converted backup quarterback Randall Mackey into a receiver/running back hybrid, allowing him to rack up 720 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns as a senior.
For now, it seems like giving Pellerin reps at tight end is a no-lose proposition. If he can’t get the hang of the new position, he can always continue to serve as a backup and change-of-pace QB. On the other hand, if he proves to be a fast learner, Pellerin’s unique blend of size and athleticism makes him an intriguing option at tight end.