STARKVILLE • Based on Joe Moorhead’s track record, tight ends were expected to play a huge role in the passing game for Mississippi State last season.
However, things didn’t exactly pan out that way.
Bulldog tight ends only averaged 2.5 catches and 31.2 yards per game in 2018 and graduated their top target, Justin Johnson, who accounted for 17 catches for 238 yards and one touchdown.
But one mediocre season at the position does not mean that MSU is abandoning its plan to have tight ends heavily involved in the offense.
“Coach Moorhead has had great tight ends as part of high offensive system,” said tight ends coach Tony Hughes. “He’s been able to utilize the talented tight ends that’s he’s had in the past, whether it’s been at Fordham or Penn State.”
The Bulldogs bring back a variety of options at the position, led by senior Farrod Green and junior Dontea Jones. State also has sophomore Powers Warren and a pair of redshirt freshmen in Geor’quarius Spivey and Brad Cumbest.
“We’ve got a good mixture of older and younger and have different sizes,” Hughes said. “We have some that are a little taller. But what is unique about all of them is that they all have wide receiver experience coming out of high school, which I am really excited about. That shows their adaptability to play the position because they’re very athletic.”
Green caught 20 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown during his first two seasons with the Bulldogs and was a starter in 2017 but took a step back in 2018. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder was limited to 11 catches for 81 yards last year.
Green is not only seeking to increase his offensive production but also to become a better leader in his final season.
“The leadership role is something that I have grown into,” Green said. “It’s different because I am not that vocal, but I am excited to see where it goes.”
Other than Green, Jones and Cumbest were the only other returning tight ends with catches last season. Jones had four receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown while Cumbest grabbed one pass for 21-yards in three games of action.
Cumbest went on to play in 33 games and drew eight starts for the Bulldogs’ baseball team that advanced to the College World Series.
“He has not missed a beat since then,” Hughes said. “You know it has to be tough with the run the baseball team had to Omaha and going through spring ball and balancing the two sports at the same time. There comes a point where you may wear down a little bit but he has shown no signs of that. As a matter of fact, I think he’s getting better each and every day that he’s out there.”
Hughes returns to State this season replacing Mark Hudspeth, who left to become the head coach at Austin Peay. Hughes had coached the Bulldogs’ safeties from 2009-15.
It is Hughes’ first time coaching on offense since working with the tight ends at Ole Miss in 2007.
“I’m a teacher of the game of football, I can adapt and learn from either side of the ball,” Hughes said. “I take a lot of pride when I go in to meet with coach Moorhead that I can teach (the players) exactly the way that he wants me to within the offense.”