Taking a surface-level look at the situation, it probably wouldn’t be fair to expect much out of Carson Tabaracci on offense this fall. The three-star prospect in the 2022 recruiting class is already at his second school and sat out all of last season after undergoing back surgery. He’s also now working at his second different position in college, and it’s one he didn’t even play in high school. But a Lincoln Riley offense has a way of getting the best out of players. And the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Tabaracci brings unique athleticism and experience to his new position.
Tabaracci was a running back in high school. And a good one. He rushed for 1,188 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at Park City (Utah) High School. Tabaracci was one of those do-everything athletes in high school. He also played wide receiver, quarterback, linebacker, basketball, lacrosse, and did the long jump. He signed with Utah out of high school and enrolled early with the Utes. But he elected to transfer following his first spring ball and quickly landed at USC.
Tabaracci spent last season off the field, recovering from back surgery that Riley called “a big deal.” He soaked up everything he could in the linebacker room. But early this season, Riley approached Tabaracci with the idea of a position switch to tight end.
“Just looking at the depth charts, saying, you know, you may have a pretty good opportunity offensively,” Riley said of the conversation. “He was off to work.”
Deep down, Riley believes Tabaracci prefers offense to defense.
The tight end spot has seen a ton of change since the end of the 2022 season. Josh Falo exhausted his eligibility, Ethan Rae did not appear on the 2023 spring roster, Malcolm Epps recently announced his entry into the transfer portal, and Jude Wolfe isn’t participating this spring due to injury. That would have left Lake McRee as the only scholarship tight end on the field this spring. That’s a good place to start, but hardly an entire position group.
Before even thinking about contributing during games this fall, the first step is just getting Tabaracci on the field enough to log a few reps. That’s been accomplished this spring.
Tabaracci Enjoying the Move to Offense
“He’s coming into a good situation,” Riley said. “He’s getting a lot of reps, he’s getting a look. And his skill set is good for it. He’s a physical kid and he catches the ball well. For missing as much as he has, and first time in our offense — really, first time doing this much of a load, physically — he’s handled it well.”
Tabaracci echoed Riley’s thoughts. This side of the ball fits him more naturally.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot of natural skills on offense,” Tabaracci said, adding that it’s been a fun transition to tight end.
He did catch 23 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns as a high school senior. He’s accustomed to running, receiving and hitting. Tabaracci sees playing tight end as doing everything he’s done before. It’s just from a different starting point.
He credited his fellow tight ends and position coach Zach Hanson for enthusiastically welcoming into the tight end room and offering all the support they can while he learns the position and the offense. Tabaracci said he thinks he’s picking things up “pretty quickly.”
Riley is upbeat about Tabaracci’s potential at tight end.
“He’s got a cool skill set for that,” Riley said. “I don’t think there’s any question he’s going to have the ability to have an impact.”
This fall might be too early to expect significant production from Tabaracci. But if he can remain healthy throughout the spring and summer, he’s likely to make a significant jump with the extended time on the practice field. At this point, Tabaracci is just looking for anything more than what’s in front of him.
“I just want to contribute as much as I can,” he said.
USC’s Tight End Position
McRee will likely be the leader at that spot this season. Reviews from Riley and Hanson have been extremely positive about McRee and the progress he made this offseason. Wolfe would give USC a solid No. 2 option there, but injuries continue to be an issue for him during his USC career.
Incoming freshman Kade Eldridge will be an intriguing addition when he arrives this summer. Like Tabaracci, Eldridge was a two-way player in high school who primarily played running back on offense. Those two appear to be pretty ideal fits for the H-back position in Riley’s offense, which can work as a hybrid fullback/tight end but sees some heavy use in the passing game.
Tight ends didn’t contribute extensively in the passing game last season. But McRee, Falo and Epps did combine for six touchdown receptions. It’s a position that Riley has found ways to utilize when the talent is there.
And incoming freshman Duce Robinson will receive plenty of attention when he arrives. There’s a good chance he’ll join the wide receiver room, but at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, he could have the ability to take some of the tight end reps on passing downs.
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