It’s understood that Maty Mauk can’t make Missouri’s offense go on his own. Senior running back Russell Hansbrough is a proven commodity, but who else can help?
(This story is part of The Kansas City Star's Football 2015 special section that publishes Sunday, Aug. 30. Pick one up and check out more here.)
▪ Who can help? For starters, Hansbrough should be fine. He tied for 17th in the nation last season with five runs of 40 yards or more. Only six power-five running backs exceeded that. Hansbrough had more runs of 40-plus yards than Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Pittsburgh’s James Conner or Boise State’s Jay Ajayi. He also had more than LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Arkansas’ Alex Collins and Miami’s Duke Johnson.
▪ Possible limitations: Depth is a concern. Hansbrough hasn’t missed any games, but he’s been unable to finish several because of an injured shoulder in recent seasons. He isn’t built for a 300-carry workload. All indications are that Morgan Steward will play after missing last season because of a hip injury that eventually required surgery in November. If he can return to the form he flashed in the spring of 2014, the Tigers are in good shape.
▪ Who can help? Sophomore receiver Nate Brown looks the part of a playmaker. But he’s switching to a new position, having made the transition to the slot during Citrus Bowl practices last season, and missed almost the entire spring because of a sprained knee. Wesley Leftwich is the only senior in Missouri’s wide-receiving corps and also one of the rare players on the roster with game-day experience. That also puts an onus on sophomore J’Mon Moore to step up.
▪ Possible limitations: Brown, Leftwich and Moore have just 10 combined catches for 114 yards and no touchdowns in their careers, but that’s more experience that the rest of this position group. Eight of the 11 scholarship wide receivers on the roster are redshirt or true freshmen. Missouri believes it’s a talented bunch, but these guys have had limited time to work with Mauk and are likely to struggle with their consistency.
▪ Who can help? Junior Sean Culkin is the Tigers’ top returning pass-catcher. There was a time when a tight end being the most-proven option in the passing game wasn’t alarming, but Culkin isn’t at the level of Martin Rucker, Chase Coffman or Michael Egnew. This also might be the year sophomore Jason Reese emerges. He certainly has the athletic ability to become one of the top tight ends in the SEC.
▪ Possible limitations: Tight ends might be needed for six-man protections in passing situations. Culkin isn’t particularly explosive after the catch and has been prone to drops. He’ll make some spectacular grabs but then flub an easy one. Reese lacks experience. He has more run-after-the-catch ability than Culkin, but he’s also struggled to corral the ball. Senior Clayton Echard is maybe the best blocker of the bunch and is a solid possession receiver, but he’s unlikely to be a difference-maker. Redshirt freshman Kendall Blanton is a still-raw talent from Blue Springs South.