COLUMBIA — In a perfect world, Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson would like to have four or five tight ends with different skill sets at his disposal, particularly with the renewed emphasis he's put on the position.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
“If you invest in this kind of part of your offense, you don’t want to have two or three guys (because) if you get an injury or two, all of a sudden it’s like it’s gone," Henson said. "You want there to be enough depth there that you can withstand a few injuries.”
You can read more on redshirt freshman Sean Culkin, the front runner to man the position, by clicking this link. But with Henson looking for depth, it appears senior Eric Waters, who caught only four passes for 27 yards last season, is also well positioned to be a useful player in this offense.
“It (the tight end) is going to be more traditional, in a sense,” said Waters, who played in all 12 games last season and was primarily used as a blocker. “I don’t really want to say it like this, but it’s almost like changing it and making us more like a pro-style tight end. Just being split out and then attached, it’s more like an overall tight end.”
Waters is looking forward to contributing, though Culkin surpassed him for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart after the spring.
“Just having the level of confidence that I do, it’s really not that big of a deal to me," Waters said of the demotion. "Having somebody that’s going to push you is just going to make us both better...you've got to make that one of the things that motivates you, intrinsically.”
Senior quarterback James Franklin says he feels comfortable with both players out there, but praised Waters for his consistency.
“Eric definitely brings experience," Franklin said. "With Eric, I know I can count on him. He's going to run his route right, he’s going to see the coverage. He's really reliable and he's really been doing a good job coaching Sean up. Even though he's competing with him, he's still doing a good job helping him out and letting him know what to do what not to do.”
That’s a good thing because Culkin, a native of Largo, Fla., spent most of his time split out as a receiver at Indian Rocks Christian School, so he’s still getting caught up on the art of blocking after redshirting last season.
But although he picked Missouri in 2012 because of its spread offense, he says he was never averse to the more pro-style look the Tigers may use him in this season.
“I think Mizzou was the only spread school that offered me - most of my offers were all pro style," said Culkin, who also had offers from Miami (Fla), Iowa State, South Florida and others. "It didn’t matter what kind of offense I was in, I just wanted to be a tight end that was used in a lot of ways and got the ball thrown to him.”
If that’s what Culkin wants, he should be a happy man this season, though Henson would clearly like to have some depth at the position. After Culkin and Waters, sophomore walk-on Clayton Echard and true freshman Jason Reese are the next men up.
“Clayton Echard, he's a big guy that’s strong," Henson said of the 6-foot-5, 260-pound sophomore. "Here's a walk-on who was a wide receiver in high school and weighed around 200 pounds. And he's 255 or 260 pounds now, so he's really worked hard to get to this point."
Henson said Echard, who went to Eureka High School, was previously a defensive end but moved to tight end at the suggestion of defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski.
"We’re just trying to make him into a big, blocking guy so he can do some things for us on the line of scrimmage in certain situations," Henson said. "So he’s buying into that role and he’s excited about it...the better he gets at it, the more we'll use him."
Meanwhile Reese, a three-star prospect from Trinity High School in Euless, Tex., has already made a positive impression on Henson, and could also figure into the Tigers’ 2013 plans.
“I think Jason is super talented for a young guy, I really do," Henson said. "All the blocking stuff, because he did it in high school all the time, it comes easy for him. For a freshman, he’s 244 pounds and he looks thin. I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”