Campus Corner

Camp preview: Missouri might need to lean more on tight ends

There was a time when Missouri routinely deployed the nation’s best tight ends.

Chase Coffman was the 2008 Mackey Award winner as the nation’s best at the position and, paired with Martin Rucker, formed one of the most explosive tight-end tandems in college football history.

Rucker was an All-American in 2007 and Coffman earned the honor in 2008.

Michael Egnew picked up there that duo left off, emerging as an All-American in 2010.

Things have been different the last two seasons under offensive coordinator Josh Henson.

Missouri ditched the wide splits and opted for a slightly more traditional and balanced offense. It’s also an offense that utilizes the tight ends in passing situations less.

With so little experience returning at wide receiver, that could change a bit in 2015 as the Tigers search for ways to keep opposing defenses honest.

Junior quarterback Maty Mauk seemed to develop some chemistry with first-string tight end Sean Culkin, who is also a junior, last season. The two were in synch early in the season.

Offensive line issues resulted in more max protection as the conference season got underway, which limited the number of routes run by tight ends.

Still, Culkin might be the target Mauk is most comfortable throwing to when the season begins, and throws to the tight ends might be an integral piece to the puzzle as Missouri seeks to sustain drives better.

Sophomore Jason Reese is an emerging talent and perhaps the pass-catcher of the current Tigers’ tight-end group.

Senior Clayton Echard isn’t flashy, but he’s a solid option as the third tight end and, with his size, can be a strong edge blocker.

Blue Springs South graduate Kendall Blanton, a redshirt freshman, remains raw and Tyler Hanneke, a versatile athlete, provides depth.

MISSOURI ROSTER: TIGHT ENDS

Returning players: Jason Reese (6-5, 250, so.), Kendall Blanton (6-6, 250, fr.), Sean Culkin (6-6, 245, jr.), Clayton Echard (6-5, 260, sr.), Tyler Hanneke (6-4, 235, jr.)

Incoming players: none

Projected starter: Culkin

Analysis: Culkin enjoyed a bit of a breakout season in 2014 with 20 catches for 174 yards and a touchdown. He is the top returning pass-catcher for the Tigers after amassing only one 6-yard reception as a redshirt freshman in 2013.

Culkin, who also improved as a run-blocker, is easily the most experience tight end on the roster, but sophomore Jason Reese and senior Clayton Echard figure to see the field plenty.

Reese, who enters camp as the No. 2 tight end, might be the best offensive threat of the bunch and Echard, who is listed third on the pre-camp depth chart, is the biggest of the bunch, a stout blocker with underrated hands.

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @todpalmer.

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