Missouri didn’t throw to the tight ends much last season.
Then-senior Eric Waters caught only eight passes, including three in two different games, while Sean Culkin made one 6-yard catch in the season opener against Murray State.
That was the sum total of tight end production in the passing game, a far cry from the days when Martin Rucker, Chase Coffman and Michael Egnew were dominating the Big 12.
With wholesale turnover at wide receiver, 2014 could bring about a return to utilizing tight ends in the Tigers’ passing game, led by the sophomore Culkin, the team’s starting tight end.
Junior Clayton Echard and redshirt freshman Jason Reese also saw several targets during recent scrimmages.
“All those guys, I think we can get them more involved,” Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “Those guys are all coming along, and I think they’re all going to be pretty good playmakers for us.”
Culkin, but especially Waters, were vital cogs in the Tigers’ dominant ground game last season blocking on the edge. That’s still going to be an important piece of the equation.
The days when the tight end lined up in the slot and served almost exclusively as a massive wide receiver probably are done.
“I think we’ll use them in a combination of ways,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Wednesday during the SEC coaches’ weekly teleconference. “Our goal has always been to get the best athletes on the field every year, and that can change.”
If Culkin — or Echard and Reese — emerge as the best receiving option, expect them to get a lot more targets.
“Sean is really a lot different player,” Pinkel said. “He’s matured, as guys do in the program, and I think he has the potential to be very good.”
Scheduling questions persist
Missouri’s schedule with all four nonconference games front-loaded was a point of curiosity to the Tigers’ Southeastern Conference brethren last season.
Despite answering questions about it throughout the first month of the season in 2013, the questions persisted in 2014 during Wednesday’s teleconference.
“That’s what we did in the Big 12, so scheduling for us, even these next couple years, is very challenging, because we had so many of these things set already,” Pinkel said. “In this league, it’s done differently. I think we’ll eventually go in that direction.”
Pinkel waxed poetic on several occasions last season about the SEC’s relative strength creating a need for more creative scheduling to break up the grind of the conference slate.
He did again.
“We’re not going to do this forever,” Pinkel said. “This is more so just because it’s what we had been doing.”