Heading into Spring Football, Missouri was thin at the WR position, with just seven scholarship players on the roster at that position. Midway through the spring, the Tigers got even thinner at the position, as their top returning receiver, Dorial Green-Beckham, was dismissed from the program.
With a handful of freshmen receivers due to arrive in June, the Tigers have replenished their numbers at WR, although there's not a lot of experience at the position.
This spring, Missouri's two most experienced WRs, fifth-year seniors Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt, took charge at the position. After Green-Beckham's dismissal, Sasser moved out to the X WR position without missing a beat, as he continued to have a great spring. During his time at Missouri, Sasser has played all of Missouri's WR positions, and he's seen game action during each of the previous three seasons. This spring, Sasser ran a 4.51-second forty, and he posted a 38" vertical jump. He's Missouri's most-reliable wide receiver, and he appears to be ready for a big year.
This spring, Hunt took over the starting job at the H WR position. He looked to be in the best physical condition he's been in during his time at Missouri, and his play has borne that out. He's stronger, but also quicker, and his elusiveness has returned, as well. In pre-spring testing, Hunt ran a 4.4-second forty, vertical jumped 38", and posted a 3.91-second 5-10-5 shuttle time. For at least two years, Hunt has been considered to be Missouri's best perimeter blocker. He's healthy, and based on what I've seen this spring, it looks like Hunt is ready to have a big year.
Another fifth-year senior, but one who hasn't played a lot, is Darius White. This spring, White moved up into the starting position at the Z WR position, where last season he saw some action as the back-up to L'Damian Washington. White is a high-level talent who has yet to consistently play at a high level on the football field. He has good hands, but drops too many balls because of what appears to be a lack of concentration. He has good size, and he runs very well. This spring, White ran a 4.47-second forty, and he vertical jumped 42". He has the speed to get behind people, and he's big enough and strong enough to make catches in traffic. At times this spring, White looked fantastic! At other times, he disappeared, and dropped balls that were right in his hands. The Tigers need White to be consistent, and at least occasionally fantastic.
After Green-Beckham was dismissed, and with Sasser's move to the outside, sophomore Levi Copeland stepped up into the starting position at the Y WR spot. Copeland had a good spring. He appears to be ready to play a larger role this season, after playing a little last year as a back-up to Marcus Lucas. At 6'2" and nearly 200 pounds, Copeland is big enough to play on the outside, although during his first two seasons at Missouri, and again this spring, he's primarily played on the inside. Of course, inside and outside are designations for convenience in Missouri's offensive sets, as outside receivers often line up inside, and inside receivers line up outside, as well. The Y WR position often takes the place of the tight end in Missouri's offensive sets, or will come off the field when the Tigers go with a TE. What I'm getting at here is that based on what I saw this spring, I think Copeland could play multiple receiver positions for Missouri, kind of the way that Lucas did a year ago. He certainly has speed, as evidenced by his pre-spring testing, including a 4.38-second forty, and a 40" vertical. Maybe he could be the guy the Tigers need to stretch the field? Copeland appears to be ready to break out and have a big year.
An exciting young wide receiver who comes out of the spring pretty well established in this year's playing rotation is red-shirt freshman J'Mon Moore. He began the spring backing up Green-Beckham at the X WR spot, and finished the spring backing up Sasser at the same spot. Moore is extremely talented, and he caught a lot of balls this spring. After being limited for most of last season due to a separated shoulder, Moore came into spring ball fully healthy, but he needs to add some weight to his slightly built frame and improve his overall strength to go along with his impressive pre-spring testing numbers that included a 4.5-second forty, a 41" vertical, a 6.63-second 3-cone drill, and a 4.00-second 5-10-5 shuttle. He catches the ball well, but he needs to become more consistent catching the football, and with every other aspect of playing the receiver position.
Junior WR Wesley Leftwich and senior walk-on WR Gavin Otte each showed well enough this spring to retain their second-team status heading into fall camp. I wouldn't say that either of them is established in the playing rotation, but they each did enough to remain in the mix. They'll have to fend off challenges from the true freshmen who will arrive in June. And that raises the question of how many WRs will play this fall? With the versatility and flexibility that players like Sasser and Copelin bring to the position group, and with the potential for increased utilization of the tight ends, the Tigers might settle on a rotation that includes fewer WRs than the 8-man rotation they used a last fall.
Late in the spring, Coach Pinkel talked about the potential for increased utilization of the tight end. Understandably, he was somewhat non-committal, but it sounded like they'll be looking at ways to use their tight ends more than they did last fall.
Coach Pinkel mentioned a pair of young tight ends by name, including sophomore Sean Culkin and red-shirt freshman Jason Reese. Culkin missed the first half of the spring with a broken finger. Then, he played the second half of Spring Football with a cast on his hand. Coach Pinkel referred to it as a "club". And it clearly inhibited Culkin's ability to catch the football. Reese showed flashes this spring, but he'll have to become a lot more consistent.
With Culkin working his way through injury, Missouri's most-productive tight end this spring was junior walk-on Clayton Echard. The converted defensive end performed well in every aspect of his job. He's the Tigers' best blocking tight end, and he's a big target who catches the football. He's more of a traditional-type tight end than Culkin and Reese. This spring, he worked with the first-team offense until Culkin returned to full participation. Then, he held onto the second-team spot throughout the remainder of the spring.
There's a lot of work to do between the end of the spring and the beginning of fall camp. Eliminating the dropped passes, and perfecting their routes so they can more consistently get open are among the off-season goals and assignments for the Missouri receivers. It'll be interesting to see what they look like come August.
80 Sean Culkin 6'6" 245 (So)
82 Clayton Echard 6'5" 260 (J)
10 Jason Reese 6'5" 240 (RSF)
89 Tyler Hanneke 6'4" 235 (So)
87 Austin Ray 6'6" 240 (RSF)
21 Bud Sasser 6'2" 210 (S)
4 J'Mon Moore 6'3" 190 (RSF)
41 Eric Laurent 6'3" 215 (So)
16 Levi Copelin 6'2" 195 (So)
38 Nicalus Rhone 5'10 170 (RSF)
45 James Taylor 5'11" 170 (RSF)
88 Jimmie Hunt 6'0" 209 (S)
84 Gavin Otte 5'11" 200 (S)
41 Aaron Bailey 5'9" 165 (RSF )/p>
43 Cameron Chancey 6'0" 180 (J)
8 Darius White 6'3" 205 (S)
18 Wesley Leftwich 6'1" 200 (J)
26 Jake Brents 6'3" 205 (So)