New University of Missouri tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley considers himself “very, very lucky” with the position group he took over with the Tigers.
“This is my first tight end coach and I couldn’t have walked into a better situation,” Finley said following a recent spring practice. “Those three guys, they are not problem off the field, classes, all that stuff — they’ve done a great job. And then on the field all of them want to be the best tight end in America, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Finley arrived at Missouri following a player career at Oklahoma and the NFL and then coaching stops in high school, at his alma mater and also Baylor. He served in an assistant director of football operations/offensive quality control role with the Bears in 2015.
The three players — redshirt senior Sean Culkin, redshirt junior Jason Reese and redshirt sophomore Kendall Blanton — inherited at Missouri make up the most experienced position group on the offensive side of the ball for the Tigers.
The trio has made a strong first impression on their new coach.
“I’m very pleased with what I see so far, very excited with what they bring to the table,” Finley said. “I’ve got three guys that are competing at a high level and I think all three of them are going to be able to help us next fall.”
All three have already helped the Tigers, especially Culkin and Reese.
Culkin, a 6-foot-6, 245-pounder, has played in 38 games the past three seasons and caught 16 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown in 2015.
Reese, a 6-5, 250-pounder, has played in 25 games the past two seasons and caught 15 passes for 126 yards last fall.
Blanton, a 6-6, 250-pounder, appeared in eight games but did not record a reception as a redshirt freshman this past season.
“Very experienced,” Finley said of his group. “Sean’s been around for a long time, fifth-year senior, and the other two guys have played quite a bit. So they’re not surprised. Nothing happens too fast for them on game field. So that’s always a plus.”
Culkin, Reese and Blanton all have the ability to do whatever is asked of them, which is quite a bit in the Tigers’ offensive scheme.
The Missouri offensive philosophy may have changed under a new head coach in Barry Odom and new offensive coordinator in Josh Heupel, but the tight ends’ role in the offense hasn’t changed much.
In addition to lining up attached to the offensive line like traditional tight ends, they will also be asked to line up in the backfield as blocking fullbacks and split out wide like wide receivers.
“All three of them can do it all,” Finley said. “Some do some things a little bit better but they make up for it in other ways. It’s our job as coaches to figure out how to use each one of them the way they need to be used.”