Missouri’s utilization of the tight ends underwent a radical transformation when offensive coordinator Josh Henson took over the offense before the 2013 season.
By radical, of course, that means the Tigers started using the tight end in a more traditional role as an edge blocker and possession receiver.
It’s a stark departure from the heyday of Missouri tight ends when Martin Rucker, Chase Coffman and Michael Egnew often lined up in the slot and were glorified, oversized wide receivers.
The pendulum of the Tigers’ tight-end duties swung even more toward a blocking role in 2014 as struggles on the offensive line necessitated more six- and seven-man protections.
That limited the number of routes tight ends ran and kept their production in the passing game tamped down, but Missouri hopes to strike a better balance in terms of tight-end utilization this season.
“The offense is a little different and we’re obviously more heavily used in the run game now, but I think, when our numbers are called, we’ve got to make some plays in the pass game,” junior tight end Sean Culkin said. “We’ve done that so far in camp, and we’re going to do that more and more as we install different personnel and packages to utilize us. But yeah, we’ve got to make some more plays this year and be accountable to the team.”
Culkin caught 20 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown as a sophomore last season. It was the most productive season for an MU tight end since Egnew snagged 50 catches for 523 and three scores in 2011.
With the toll graduation took on Missouri’s offense, the tight ends must step up even more in 2015.
“We graduated a lot of playmakers last year and there are holes there to fill,” Culkin said. “I want to fill that. The other tight ends want to fill that. The younger receivers and everyone wants to fill that and strive to be great every day.”
Sophomore Jason Reese, who appeared in 13 games last season, also is poised for a breakout campaign and should give MU more options at tight end.
“He’s made some big strides, whether it’s in the weight room or last spring when I got hurt,” Culkin said. “That was good experience for him to get a lot of reps with the ones, and he got good experience there. He’s done great so far in this camp. It will be nice to have a guy, where we can just roll and not have a drop off.”
Senior Clayton Echard and redshirt freshman Kendall Blanton, a Blue Springs South graduate, round out the tight-end depth for the Tigers.
Doherty still plans to play baseball
When Missouri signed Winnetonka’s Marquise Doherty, the plan was always for him to play football and baseball.
He was drafted in the 15th round of June’s first-year player draft, but he chose to enroll at Missouri instead and nothing’s changed regarding his two-sport plan.
“He’s going to play baseball,” Pinkel said. “We’re going to have to work through that in the spring, but we’ll work something out there. … It’s football season now, though.”
Doherty has spent most of the Tigers’ fall camp sixth on the depth chart at tailback.
Missouri had one name added to injury list Thursday when freshman wide receiver Richaud Floyd showed up in red with a rib injury.
He joined redshirt freshman wide receiver Thomas Richard (hamstring) on the sideline for the Tigers’ eighth practice of fall camp.
Senior safety Ian Simon (hamstring) and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Andy Bauer (hip) also remain limited practice participants.
Junior running back Morgan Steward (hip) hasn’t been wearing a non-contact pullover and did some contact drills Wednesday, Pinkel said, but he’s yet to be completely cleared for full duty.