As the Missouri Tigers are focused on their Winning Edge winter conditioning program in preparation for Spring Football, ShowMeMizzou.com previews the tight end position.
With the Tigers returning so little experience at the wide receiver position, we may see more reliance on the tight ends as receivers. The Tigers return more experience at the tight end position, including three different tight ends who have seen significant game action.
Heading into the spring, junior Sean Culkin is the likely starter. He’s continued to improve during his time at Missouri, and as he enters his third spring at Missouri, it’s his time.
This spring, Culkin is expected to receive a serious challenge for the starting job from sophomore Jason Reese.
"Jason Reese has a chance to compete for a lot of playing time," said Missouri Offensive Coordinator and Tight Ends Coach Josh Henson.
Reese came on during the 2014 season, and by season’s end, he had taken over the back-up job, and was playing well enough to warrant an increasing number of game reps. Reese is an especially good blocker, and he also appears to be a little more athletic as a receiver. Not long ago, he told me that he expects to run the forty in the 4.6-second range during testing this spring. And he credited the strength and conditioning staff for improving his speed, as well as his flexibility.
“I got a little bit of experience under my belt last year, and I’m ready to take off,” said Reese. “I feel like I got my feet wet, and I’m definitely going to be ready for next year………………………………………. I definitely need to keep getting better in my physicality. That’s the number one thing. Playing in the SEC, we’ve got to be able to block these SEC defensive ends. One thing I’ve gotten better at is definitely my speed and my route running.”
As Reese continued to develop throughout the 2014 season, Missouri utilized more and more two-tight-end personnel packages, which featured Culkin and Reese on the field together. It’ll be interesting to see how often we’ll see Culkin and Reese on the field together this spring.
The third tight end to have seen significant game action is senior Clayton Echard, although he did not catch a single pass last season. He’s been utilized as a blocker, primarily in short-yardage situations.
It’ll be interesting to get an extended look at red-shirt freshman tight end Kendall Blanton, who may be the most-talented of Missouri’s tight ends. This spring, Blanton will have his best opportunity yet to show everyone that he’s ready to begin making a contribution. He was injured early during the bowl practices, so the Tigers didn't get to see as much of him as they would have liked.
"I think Kendall's doing real well," explained Coach Henson, speaking of Blanton. "He's obviously got to get stronger. Developing in the weight room is maybe his biggest challenge over the next year."
TE 80 Sean Culkin 6’6” 245 (J) 10 Jason Reese 6’5” 240 (So) 82 Clayton Echard 6’5” 260 (S) 87 Austin Ray 6’3” 240 (So) 11 Kendall Blanton 6’6” 250 (RSF)