Tight end is the least of Drew Lock’s worries as Missouri prepares to enter a fall with big implications for the program and head coach Barry Odom.
The Tigers’ quarterback paid heavy compliments to the four-man group after backups Brendan Scales and Logan Christopherson both showed flashes of potential during Saturday’s Black and Gold game, which the offense won 24-0.
Missouri already returns the likes of redshirt sophomore Albert Okwuegbunam and senior Kendall Blanton, a Blue Springs resident, both starters who were integral parts of the offense last season. Okwuegbunam’s 11 touchdowns led the nation at the position, and another strong season could see him leave early for the NFL.
Hence the need for Scales and Christopherson to be ready to play.
Scales had a pair of catches on Saturday for 7 yards, and he nearly had a highlight catch that would have been for more than 20 yards had quarterback Taylor Powell not overthrow him by inches.
After flipping his commitment from Alabama to Missouri in 2016, Scales, a redshirt sophomore, had one of the best springs in the program, according to Lock.
The 6-foot-4 Scales had a foot injury his redshirt season and struggled to get on the field in 2017 as Okwuegbunam stole the show on offense, with supporting help from Blanton.
Scales said he had no business being on the field last season, as he struggled to read defenses despite being comfortable in the offense. Missouri’s hybrid air-raid spread offense under former offensive coordinator Josh Heupel was a major adjustment for Scales coming out of high school, and it wasn’t until this spring that he truly felt comfortable in the Tigers’ offense.
“I could keep up physically,” he said. “But mentally I just wasn’t there.”
After putting a harder emphasis on learning the offense, Scales emerged as one of the Tigers’ breakout stars in the spring, giving the team’s secondary a tough assignment daily.
“If the ball was in the air and someone was on him, 90 percent of the time he was going to make that catch,” Blanton said.
Lock went a step further, saying that new offensive coordinator Derek Dooley and his offense is more suited to Scales’ skill set and is able to bring out the best in him.
Scales said that under Heupel, tight ends had less responsibility and were less detail-oriented compared to Dooley. Dooley’s offense has five times the number of routes a tight end has to run compared to Heupel’s, Scales said, and has more plays involving multiple tight ends.
After nearly playing as a true freshman out of Lemont High School in Illinois, Christopherson tore numerous ligaments in his left ankle in the fall and broke parts of his tibia and fibula. He had surgery in September and had a metal plate inserted into his foot to help repair it.
Standing at 6-foot-6, Christopherson, who stands 6-feet-6, said he only had three routes in high school and thinks Dooley’s offense is “more true to the tight end.”
On Saturday, Christopherson spent a lot of time blocking as an attached tight end to Missouri’s offensive line and had two catches for 10 yards, but he showed his ability to move quickly for a guy his size.
Tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley has regularly told both Christopherson and Scales that the opportunity for playing time for the fall is there for both of them if they continue to play well, but with both starters returning, the ball is in their court.
“We have a chance to get on the field but we have to prove it,” Scales said. “I think we’re ready.”