Between breaking down tape and implementing a game plan, LSU tight end Foster Moreau doesn’t have much time to observe the other tight ends in the Southeastern Conference.
There are a few, though, that he notices in scouting reports or that naturally catch his eye.
For example, Arkansas’ Hunter Henry won the 2015 John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s best tight end, and was a second-round draft choice of the San Diego Chargers in April.
Then there’s Ole Miss' Evan Engram, the SEC’s current leading receiver whom the Tigers defensive backs slowed last Saturday in a 38-21 win.
“Some guys do so well that you got to hear about them,” Moreau said.
For many, that list includes Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, the Crimson Tide’s third-leading receiver who set a career-high with eight catches, on eight targets, in last weekend’s 33-14 win against then-unbeaten Texas A&M.
No. 19 LSU (5-2, 3-1) is set to face Howard and top-ranked Alabama (8-0, 5-0) next Saturday, a second straight test for the Tigers' secondary against one of the league's best tight ends.
The Tigers passed their first test, shutting down Engram. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior has 14 more catches than the next leading Rebels' pass catcher and led the team in targets (30) in the three previous SEC games.
Realistically, Engram plays more like an extra wide receiver, as his speed presents mismatches for linebackers when he’s lined up in the slot. But Engram wasn’t demanding the attention of linebackers against the Tigers. Between LSU safety Jamal Adams and nickelback Tre’Davious White, Engram’s athleticism and speed were matched on almost every play. He finished with three catches, on six targets, for 15 yards.
“A safety spying a tight end, that’s usually a pretty good matchup for our team,” Moreau said. “I feel like we have big, physical safeties who can make plays in the passing game against a tight end and we always have.”
"Jamal came in ready play," cornerback Donte Jackson said. "He was excited about getting the chance to go against (Engram), and he woke up to the call. He played a great game.”
The Tigers’ performance against Engram was a reversal of how its handled Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli in a season-opening loss to the Badgers. Fumagalli snatched all seven of his targets for a game-high 100 yards.
Outside linebacker Arden Key, playing a new position in a game for the first time, was assigned to the 6-foot-6, 247-pound Badger a few times. Fumagalli’s longest reception in the game came when he fooled Key on a delayed drag route, chipping defensive end Lewis Neal before running his route.
Fumagalli’s role in the Wisconsin offense is closer to Howard's than to Engram's. Howard doesn't split out as much as Engram, despite being a piece in coordinator Lane Kiffin's spread formations.
LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron, who worked under Kiffin at Tennessee and Southern California, knows how his former boss and colleague implements tight ends into his scheme.
“I like the way they use O.J.,” Orgeron said. "I think he’s a great player. Lane’s very smart. I’ve been with him. I know how he likes to use his tight end. We got a tall task at hand, but I’m sure (defensive coordinator) Dave Aranda is going to have a great plan. … He’s an excellent player. Probably the best tight end we’ll see this year.”
LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron and Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin normally tal…
White said there are three phases to playing defensive back and the first two — his stance and staying square — are critical to defending a taller receiver, such as a tight end.
Dwayne Thomas, who rotates in at nickelback, said tight ends often try to push off, so “blending” into a tight end’s body to play the ball is critical. But he doesn’t want to get into a “fistfight” with the tight end near the line of scrimmage.
“I want to be able to read his routes, so I want him to come up the field a little bit to see what he’s trying to do,” Thomas said. “Then once he gets up to a certain amount of yards, I’m going to blend into his body and play the assignment.”
Even in the five-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide, LSU hasn’t exactly struggled against Alabama tight ends since the 2012 BCS national championship game, when three tight ends combined for 11 catches and 51 yards.
However, Howard’s only catch in Tigers’ 38-17 loss to the Crimson Tide in 2013 was a 52-yard touchdown. Then, in the 2014 meeting, two of Howard's three catches came in Alabama’s game-tying drive, sending it into overtime tied at 13.
On the first play of overtime, fellow Crimson Tide tight end Brandon Greene hauled in a 24-yard reception that set up the game-winning touchdown.
“(Howard is) one of the top tight ends in the SEC,” Thomas said. “We’re just going to have to do a really good job of playing our technique, making sure our eyes are in the right spot and watching a lot of film this weekend, seeing what he likes to do.”
Dwayne Thomas is fired up with good reason.