OXFORD – The end zone has never felt so good for Jason Pellerin.
Once a quarterback, Pellerin made semi-frequent visits there as a short-yardage option for former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze in 2016.
Pellerin, rated a four-star signee by 247Sports and ESPN, was a freshmen then. He had three rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns.
When he had a diving 5-yard catch of a Matt Corral pass in the second quarter against Southeastern Louisiana last Saturday, it was his first touchdown in three years.
And his first receiving touchdown. He'd like to have another when the Rebels take on No. 23 Cal Saturday morning at 11.
“Man, that felt good,” Pellerin said.
That feeling of accomplishment was enjoyed not only by Pellerin but by all current Ole Miss tight ends.
Dawson Knox, last year’s starter, was described as a “freak” in terms of his athletic ability but was rarely targeted in the offense of Phil Longo, the Rebels’ coordinator for the last two seasons.
Longo’s offense also featured three receivers – DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Damarkus Lodge – who spent time in NFL camps this summer. Metcalf and Brown are making plays as rookies with the Seahawks and Titans.
Knox is making NFL plays too. He caught only 15 passes as a senior, but that and his off-season testing were enough for Buffalo to draft him in the third round.
Ole Miss tight ends had 23 catches among 282 completions in 2018.
It’s been different for the tight ends this season under Rich Rodriguez.
“It’s a lot more responsibility I’d say. Last year the offense was efficient. We had things going on for us. We did things well, we didn’t do some things well. This offense the tight end has to know a lot more. We have to read defenses a lot better. We have a lot more responsibility in the blocking game, and we’re a lot more involved (in the passing game) as well. The QBs are reading us on progressions now. It’s a good feeling knowing that we’re liable to be targeted,” Pellerin said.
As a high school quarterback at New Iberia (La.) Catholic Pellerin had a combined 75 touchdowns passing and rushing over his junior and senior seasons.
“It had been a while since the tight ends had scored here,” Pellerin said.
Indeed, the last time had been Octavious Cooley’s catch and run down the sideline in Little Rock against Arkansas last season. The play went for 66 yards.
After moving to tight end as a sophomore Pellerin had not recorded a catch until this season’s opening game against Memphis. Corral hit Pellerin in the seam. He gained yards after the catch, and the play went for 15 yards.
Now Pellerin has five catches for 54 yards on the season, at least one in each game.
He and Cooley, the starting tight end, have 10 catches among the Rebels’ 46 pass completions.
“We’ve had talented tight ends for years. Just being able to get in the end zone and represent us has been a good deal. Personally for me, it’s been a few years since I’ve been in the end zone. It felt good to be back. There’s more were that came from though.”