COLUMBIA — Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson has talked all preseason about the importance the tight end position could play in his scheme this season, and Thursday’s scrimmage offered the first real proof.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Redshirt freshman Sean Culkin, the projected starter, hauled in four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown, while senior backup Eric Waters had three catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. Freshman tight end Jason Reese didn’t catch a pass, but Missouri coach Gary Pinkel still included him in the list of players at the position that can make an impact.
“That’s a pretty good 1-2-3 punch,” Pinkel said. “All of them weigh over 245 pounds, so they can do some things for us.”
Waters, who served primarily as a blocker last season, was surpassed on the depth chart by Culkin after spring practice. But he caught Pinkel’s eye Thursday when he caught a 36-yard touchdown from redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk and made another tough catch over the middle in which he dragged tacklers for several yards.
“He made some nice catches, ran with it afterwards, made some nice blocks,” Pinkel said. “Him being a senior, it’s good he’s doing those things.”
Senior receiver L’Damian Washington also credited his fellow senior for keeping his head up after his demotion.
“His confidence was a little rattled coming into camp, he kind of got moved down (on the depth chart),” Washington said. “But when you see a guy like that who didn’t give up on himself and he’s coming out here to compete, you have to cheer for a guy like that.”
Mauk also commended the 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior for the scoring play, in which he outran safety Matt White to the end zone.
“We called that play and it’s designed to go to the inside guy, whoever that was, and that was him,” Mauk said. “Eric did a good job of selling it and getting open, obviously. I found him very quick. He did the rest.”
Mauk said it’s nice having weapons like Waters and Culkin around to hopefully give defenses something else to think about when defending Missouri’s spread offense.
“When you can have five top-notch guys at receiver, then two bulky guys that can block on the line that are quick like them, it’s a whole new asset to the offense,” Mauk said. “It’s going to be hard for some teams to stop.”
Washington doesn’t lack confidence
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Washington had perhaps the play of the day early in the scrimmage, when he hauled in a short pass from senior quarterback James Franklin, ran through arm tackles by redshirt freshman John Gibson and safety Matt White and raced past everyone for a 53-yard touchdown.
“You know, I’m like 6-6, 250, inside,” Washington said with a grin. “I’m really lion-hearted. I’m a beast inside. You see a little frail guy on the outside but I think I’m like Mike Alstott when I’m running the ball.”
The fact Washington would even joke about feeling like Alstott — the now-retired Tampa Bay fullback who was famously difficult to bring down — is an indication of how much he’s grown physically since he arrived at Missouri in 2009.
“I’m 200 (pounds), which is a long way from the 160 I came in at,” Washington said. “I think a lot of that credit goes to (strength) coach (Pat) Ivey, putting on 40 pounds (on me) and getting (me) faster. That’s remarkable.”
In the spring, Ivey confirmed that Washington was the fastest Tiger in the 40-yard dash, running in the low 4.3s.
“I think I’m the fastest guy,” Washington said. “A couple of people would debate that, but I think numbers don’t lie.”
Green-Beckham blocks a punt
Sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham had another quiet scrimmage at receiver, catching just two passes for 13 yards. However, Green-Beckham kicked off the day on a high note on special teams, when he blocked a punt as a member of the first-team punt return unit.
Green-Beckham said he’s still getting used to his new role, adding that it’s the first punt he’s blocked since the Tigers started using him there this preseason.
“That’s just something I’m going to have to get used to,” Green-Beckham said. “Once I knew they were putting me out there, I understood why. I’m a bigger target and I’m a speed guy and I’ve got long arms to just reach out there and block punts. I’ve felt more comfortable doing it each and every day in practice.”
Boehm gets his groove back
Sophomore center Evan Boehm bounced back after a rough first scrimmage in which he had two bad snaps. He got the majority of the reps with the first team, but for the first time sophomore backup Brad McNulty got a few reps with the starters, too.
“Snap-wise we did much better,” Pinkel said. “Evan certainly is the starter…there’s a guy that really responded to it.
“I’m just telling you, you should go through a season without a bad snap. That’s the way it is. He worked real hard and wasn’t perfect...but for the most part, he did much better.”
Walk-ons campaign for bigger roles
Junior walk-on Gavin Otte had another strong scrimmage, hauling in seven passes for 77 yards and three touchdowns.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound receiver from Rolla, Mo., also had nine catches for 74 yards in Missouri’s first scrimmage on Saturday. He is currently third on the depth chart at the “Y” receiver position behind senior Marcus Lucas and redshirt freshman Levi Copelin.
“He’s done some really good things,” said receivers coach Pat Washington. “What I’ve got to do is probably put him against a little bit better competition because he’s going against a lot of down-the-line guys, not that I’m knocking their ability. So (I want to) put him in some situations where maybe the competition is a little bit better and we can see if the consistency remains the same.”
Another walk-on, sophomore running back Tyler Hunt, is also doing his best to work his way into the mix. He earned a few snaps with the second-team offense in goal line, powering through the middle for an 11-yard gain that resulted in a first down. He finished with 35 yards on six carries as he continues to state his case in short yardage.
“That’s definitely what I’m going for because I am a little bigger than the other guys, so hopefully it translates and just shows I’ve got the power to run somebody over and get a couple yards when we need it,” Hunt said. “They’re telling me to keep running hard and they like what they see.”
Pinkel said the staff, which has a history of awarding walk-ons scholarships, constantly evaluates their progress through camp, but added that a lot goes into the decision. Senior guard Max Copeland, a former walk-on who started 11 games last season, earned a scholarship last August.
“We talk about that about every three or four days, if somebody is in that position to possibly get a scholarship,” Pinkel said. “Sometimes we’ll identify a guy and wait ‘til the season is over, depending on the aid available. We also have to look at our scholarships and if we want to bring in players in January. There’s a lot of things other than just saying you’ve got three scholarships, give one to somebody.”
Sophomore receiver Wes Leftwich and junior running back Greg White wore red non-contact jerseys and did not participate Thursday. Neither did senior cornerback E.J. Gaines, who didn’t dress due to a strained patella tendon in his left knee.