LOS ANGELES -- Since the end of spring ball, Trojans fans have heard about the lack of depth and perhaps even the talent level that surrounds the tight end position. It certainly appeared that entering training camp the Trojans were hurting in the tight end department.
With former starting sophomore tight end Bryce Dixon trying to appeal his way back into school stemming from an undisclosed student-conduct issue and anticipated starting redshirt junior tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick awaiting final summer school results in hopes of regaining his eligibility, it looked like things weren't very promising at one of the offense's most critical positions.
Well, guess what? As of Wednesday, the Trojans tight end situation might have taken a positive U-turn. L.A. Superior Court Judge Robert H. O'Brien issued a stay for Bryce Dixon's student-conduct expulsion, clearing the way for Dixon's possible return to school and the football program.
USC issued a brief statement, which in part read, "We will carefully evaluate the judge's written order once it is issued in order to determine our next steps."
As for Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, summer school ended Tuesday, and there was nothing official regarding his academic status and athletic eligibility. Coach Steve Sarkisian did say after Wednesday night's practice that he "didn't know anything yet."
Regardless of the status of Dixon and Cope-Fitzpatrick, Sark appears to be pleased with the progress of the available tight ends.
"We probably have more tight ends than people thought we would have, and those guys are making some plays, too," said Sarkisian. "After the quarterback position, that's probably the hardest position in our offense because they have to know the run game and the pass game, and it's something we continue to work on."
Echoing the head coach's comment is his tight end coach and associate head coach of the offense Marques Tuiasosopo, who is entering his second season with the Trojans and whose second cousin is former USC offensive guard Titus Tuiasosopo.
"It's great to have guys that we can practice with," Tuiasosopo said. "We're not just wearing down two or three, which we've had in the past. It's good to get repetitions and a good substitution deal going and seeing who can play and who is going to help us this year."
So what does Tuiasosopo, who spent seven seasons as an NFL quarterback, see as the strength of this group thus far?
"At this point athleticism and ball skills," said Tuiasosopo, a former Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year (2000) as a Washington Huskies quarterback and 2001 Rose Bowl Game MVP.
And where would "Tui" like to see improvements in his unit?
"In the run game and in the overall level of play," Tuiasosopo said. "They do a lot of good things, and I want to build that consistency up so we can count on them doing their thing. They'll get there. They need some confidence and get some plays under their belt."
Listed in alphabetical order, Tuiasosopo gave a brief assessment of his currently available tight ends, which does not include Dixon, Cope-Fitzpatrick, and Florida transfer and redshirt Daniel Imatorbhebhe.
Cyrus Hobbi (No. 47/Sr./ 6-3, 245/ Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro): Hobbi did not participate in football last season after arriving at Troy in 2011 as a prep All-American offensive lineman. Hobbi withdrew from playing football in 2014 due to a lingering back injury. Having now already earned his degree, he returns as a walk-on and has been rejuvenated to play the game again.
Tuiasosopo says: "He's a great kid, and, man, he's studious and knows what to do. He's handled the transition well. He's a Trojan when came out of high school and he's a great addition to my room. As far helping in his blocking, no question he's got all the fundamentals, footwork and technique down on blocking on the edge, which we ask our tight ends to do. He's going to be a great addition for our young players. When I can't meet with them by rule, he can teach those guys, and he's a great guy and wants to help."
Taylor McNamara (No. 48/Jr./ 6-5, 245/ San Diego Westview): McNamara transferred to USC in the fall of 2015 after receiving his bachelor's degree from Oklahoma (he is eligible to play at Troy in 2015). He spent three seasons (2012-14) as a tight end at Oklahoma and caught a 4-yard pass against Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
Tuiasosopo says: He's a new face, a transfer, and he's swimming a little bit right now. He's a great kid and another athletic tight end that can run and caught the ball a lot when he came out of high school when we were recruiting him. He's getting it down and doing well. I think already being in a college program (Oklahoma) is an advantage because it's something he is use to. Then again, being a new guy, new faces, a new way of doing things, a new terminology and it can be tough and he's like a freshman again. He should handle the transition pretty smoothly."
Tyler Petite (No. 82/Fr./ 6-6, 235/Lafayette, Calif./Campolindo): Once committed to Duke, Petite had a late change of mind and switched to Troy. Petite has live up to his all-star clippings during the first week of training camp. With the way he has caught the ball, he could get early playing time.
Tuiasosopo says: "He's very athletic with great ball skills. He has shown flashes of making some good catches like he did today and yesterday. He's got a little bit to learn in the run game, but he wants to be great and he's a hard worker."
Connor Spears (No. 81/Soph./6-6, 245/Dakota Dunes, SD/Bishop Heelan/Columbia): A transfer from Columbia University, Spears surprised many during spring ball as to be taken seriously as a tight prospect entering training camp. He is extremely smart, very coachable, and presents a nice upside. He figures to play a lot this season.
Tuiasosopo says: "He's our lone veteran. He went through spring and survived through all his rest. He got better and you can tell. He's already had three really good practices and he's really gotten a lot better."
Caleb Wilson (No. 87/Fr./6-5, 225/Gardena, Calif./Serra: A walk-on and the son of current Trojans defensive line coach Chris Wilson, Caleb was a high school quarterback and tight end a powerhouse Serra and is making a full and successful transition to tight end. An outstanding athlete, Wilson caught 18 passes for 310 yards (17.2 avg.) with 7 TDs for Serra.
Tuiasosopo says: "He's a new guy and very athletic. He can line up in the slot and catch the ball and he can run. He's just learning what's it's like to be a college tight end because he was a quarterback in high school. He's got a great attitude and works hard."