ShowMeMizzou.com continues our pre-season position previews with a look at Missouri’s wide receivers and tight ends.
One development that I’ll be watching with interest this fall is the frequency of Missouri’s use of the tight end versus lining up with a fourth wide receiver on the field. Last season, Missouri was loaded with play makers at the wide-receiver position, and in 2013, the Tigers lined up with a fourth wide receiver much more often than with a tight end. Heading into this season, it would appear that the Tigers might be more inclined to utilize a tight end more often, maybe much more often.
That’s going to be interesting to watch that situation unfold, and along with the position battles, particularly for the back-up jobs at receiver and tight end, fall camp promises to offer an element of discovery in observing the receiver positions.
Missouri returns two experienced tight ends, including sophomore Sean Culkin, and junior Clayton Echard. Echard was mostly used as a blocker in short-yardage situations, but he’s more of a receiving threat than you might think. Culkin has shown promise, mostly in practice, as a pass-catcher. His on-the-field performance will likely play a large part in defining the tight end’s role this season.
There should be an interesting competition for the back-up tight end job. In the past, the Tigers have preferred to have three tight ends prepared to play, including their utilization in short-yardage packages. Echard has pretty much established himself as the Tigers premier blocking tight end, so look for him to be a part of the short-yardage packages. Will red-shirt freshman Jason Reese make a move up the Depth Chart this fall? Like Culkin, Reese has shown some pass-catching ability in practice. Last August, he came out of the gate quickly, and impressed with his athleticism, and his ability to catch the football. But, he’ll have to continue to improve if he’s going to move up and see significant playing time this fall.
Besides the competition provided by a pair of very talented walk-on tight ends, in Tyler Hanneke and Austin Ray, there’s also the very talented freshman tight end, Kendall Blanton, who brings promising size and athleticism, along with the possibility of match-up advantages in the red-zone, to the competition.
The Tigers return a pair of senior wide receivers who have played a lot. Bud Sasser has played every receiver position for Missouri over the last three seasons, and he has played in 35 games for the Tigers, including making 15 starts. For his career, Sasser has a total of 39 receptions for 608 yards and 2 TDs. While he hasn’t been one of Missouri’s top receiving targets, he’s performed well when called upon, and there’s every reason to believe we’ll see a big year from the senior. I think we’ll see him line up on the outside, but he can, and has, played everywhere, including throwing a halfback TD pass at Georgia last season.
Jimmy Hunt has played in even more games during his time at Mizzou, 38. But, he’s never made a start. In addition to his kick-return duties, Hunt has played primarily in the slot for Missouri, and he enters fall camp as the starting H WR. For his Missouri career, Hunt has 34 receptions for 506 yards and 5 TDs, in addition to an 87-yard kickoff return for a TD. He too, can play every receiver position for the Tigers, but the last couple of years he’s played almost exclusively in the slot, primarily because he’s shown himself to be the best blocker from among Missouri’s receivers. In fact, Hunt has developed into an excellent perimeter blocker. He’s also a tough, fearless receiver over the middle, and as a returner, he does possess very good run-after-catch ability. He’s really been a strong fit at the H WR spot, and he’ll undoubtedly play a vital role in the Tigers’ offense this season. Like Sasser, I expect that Hunt will be on a mission to have a memorable senior season.
Another fifth-year senior who comes into camp listed as a starting wide receiver is Darius White, who played in all 14 games for Missouri last season, and who enters his final collegiate campaign with a total of 13 receptions for 147 yards and 2 TDs. Since transferring in from Texas two years ago, White has played in a back-up role, and in 2013, he came off the sideline to make 7 catches for 76 yards and 1 TD. This spring, the former high school All-American quickly took over a starting role, and he showed improvement, as well as his considerable talent. White, too, is on a mission to have a great senior season.
Barring injury, I think those three seniors will not only hold down those starting jobs for the Tigers, but I think they are all three primed and poised to have career years, perhaps career-defining years.
Heading into fall camp, I expect that sophomore Levi Copelin will be listed as the starter at the Y WR position, which is the wide receiver position that comes off the field when the Tigers use a tight end. Of course, Copelin can play other WR positions, and depending on how much the Tigers utilize the Y WR versus the tight end, he could see time as Hunt’s back-up, at the H WR position. Copelin could also see time at either of the outside receiver positions. Last season, Copelin played in all 14 games for the Tigers and he made 3 receptions for 61 yards.
More than the other receivers, Sasser and Copelin lend some flexibility to Mizzou’s receiver corps, which increases the Tigers depth at receiver. Hunt can play other positions, as well, but he’s too valuable at the H WR position to play him at another spot. The Tigers hope to receive a big boost from their talented red-shirt freshman receiver, J’Mon Moore. Thus far, Moore has practiced primarily at the two outside receiver spots, although I can envision him potentially lining up at the Y WR spot, in place of the tight end. We’ll see. Wherever he does line up, he brings the promise of play-making ability to the field.
Sasser and Hunt are the known entities, the experienced fifth-year seniors with the track records of being reliable and of having been tried and tested. On the other hand, the rest of Missouri’s receivers are relatively unknown entities. But particularly in White and Moore, I think the Tigers have the potential to complement Sasser and Hunt on the field with additional play-makers, and to line up with a very productive corps of receivers.
Fall camp will also feature some interesting competition for the remaining spots on the two-deep at wide receiver. There are two layers to this competition, as it also includes the unveiling of Missouri’s talented freshman class of receivers. Unfortunately, one of those freshmen, and one of the ones that I thought might have a chance to help this year, Keyon Dilosa, suffered a torn Achilles tendon last month, and he will miss the 2014 season.
Most expect freshman WR Nate Brown to make a strong bid for a spot on the two-deep, and playing time this fall. It will be interesting to see if Brown lives up to those expectations, and just how much of a help he’ll be in his initial season at Mizzou. If the very early returns are any indication, Brown may very well force his way into the primary rotation. He's physically and mentally mature, and he's relatively polished as a receiver. I'm looking forward to seeing what he'll bring to the practice field, and on game day.
Just how many wide receivers Missouri utilizes in their rotation depends on several factors, including how much they expect to be using their tight ends. Last year, Missouri utilized 8 WRs in their regular rotation. But with increased use of the tight end, the Tigers might be willing to go with a 6-7 man rotation. That’s something that we’ll learn about as we get closer to the season.
For now, it appears that, in addition to Brown, the candidates who appear likely to flush out the remaining 1-3 spots in the WR rotation include freshmen Thomas Richard, Desean Blair, and Lawrence Lee, as well as junior Wes Leftwich, and senior walk-on Gavin Otte.
Here’s what the two-deep at TE and WR might look like at the beginning of camp:
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 6’5” 240 (RSF)
11 Kendall Blanton 6’7” 255 (F)
21 Bud Sasser 6’2” 210 (S)
4 J'Mon Moore 6’3” 190 (RSF)
41 Eric Laurent 6’3” 215 (So)
17 Desean Blair 6’4” 185 (F)
19 Keyon Dilosa 6’4” 194 (F) (injured - out for season)
16 Levi Copelin 6’2” 195 (So)
38 Nicalus Rhone 5’10 170 (RSF)
45 James Taylor 5’11” 170 (RSF)
85 Thomas Richard 6’0” 190 (F)
88 Jimmie Hunt 6’0” 215 (S)
84 Gavin Otte 5’11” 200 (S)
41 Aaron Bailey 5’9” 165 (RSF )
43 Cameron Chancey 6’0” 180 (J)
24 Lawrence Lee 5’11” 175 (F)
8 Darius White 6’3” 205 (S)
18 Wesley Leftwich 6’1” 200 (J)
26 Jake Brents 6’3” 205 (So)
2 Nate Brown 6’3” 210 (F)