Campus Corner

Missouri camp preview: Tight ends

Missouri Tigers tight end Sean Culkin was brought down by a pair of BYU defensive players during a game last year.
Missouri Tigers tight end Sean Culkin was brought down by a pair of BYU defensive players during a game last year. skeyser@kcstar.com

Missouri’s returning tight ends caught 31 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown last season.

The glory years — Tigers tight ends Chase Coffman, Michael Egnew and Martin Rucker all had at least 84 catches, 762 yards and five touchdowns in a season between 2007-2010 — aren’t returning.

Still, there’s probably more production that can be squeezed from the position than Mizzou has been getting the last few seasons.

New offensive coordinator Josh Heupel didn’t feature the tight end at Oklahoma much after his first season as Sooners co-offensive coordinator in 2011.

Tight ends caught 43 passes for 524 yards and four touchdowns that season, but the production dipped precipitously the next two seasons.

Oklahoma tight ends combined for six catches, 78 yards and one touchdown during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

But Heupel showed a willingness to utilize the position more in 2014 when converted quarterback Blake Bell emerged as a reliable target, finishing with 16 catches for 214 yards and four touchdowns that season.

At Utah State last fall, junior tight end Wyatt Houston grabbed 25 passes (fourth on the team) for 307 yards (third on the team) and three touchdowns (tied for second on the team).

Overall, the Aggies tight ends produced 30 receptions and 414 yards, which still outpaces Missouri last season.

For more on the Tigers’ tight end situation ahead of fall camp, here’s The Star’s position breakdown:

TIGHT ENDS

Returning starters: Sean Culkin, senior.

Other returning contributors: Jason Reese, junior; Kendall Blanton, sophomore.

Newcomers: Albert Okwuegbunam, freshman; Brendan Scales, freshman.

Projected 2016 starters: Culkin and Reese.

Outlook: Senior Sean Culkin won’t go in the record books for last season — 16 catches for 139 yards and a touchdown — but it wasn’t a bad follow-up to the 20 receptions for 174 yards and a touchdown he posted his sophomore season. Perhaps the biggest gains Culkin has made in recent season come as a blocker.

Meanwhile, junior Jason Reese and sophomore Kendall Blanton brings different dimensions to the position in terms of speed and athleticism. It should allow Heupel to get creative with tight end-usage, deploying them as bookends or occasionally in the slot or backfield as an H-back.

If Mizzou succeeds in increasing the tempo of the offense, that depth — along with the additions of freshmen Brendan Scales and Albert Okwuegbunam, one of whom could suit up this season — should pay off. It’s not inconceivable that the tight end becomes a chain-moving crutch in certain situations, especially as a wrinkle early in the season.

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer

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