Brendan Scales and Albert Okwuegbunam arrived at preseason camp for the Missouri Tigers behind three older players in the tight end group, but after two weeks of practices both freshman have shown they may be able to contribute sooner rather than later.
“Physically they absolutely look the part,” Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said following Monday’s practice. “I think they are learning how to adjust to the speed of the game and I’m just talking about defenses and personnel on the other side of the ball. It’s a different game then it was in high school. It’s different when you put your hand in the dirt and have to block a six-technique and that’s a grown man over there.
“Those guys have to continue to just learn to cut it loose. I think through this part of training camp, through 12 days, there’s so much install that it’s hard for those guys to absorb everything. Now you’re 12 days in so you get a chance to go back and kind of rehash it. Hopefully the game slows down for them mentally and that allows them to play physically a lot faster as well.”
Okwuegbunam, listed at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, looks the part of a jumbo-sized pass catcher after playing wide receiver in high school.
The 6-4 Scales, who said he arrived at Missouri at 233 pounds but is now up to 250, is more of a blocker and H-back/fullback type but is also capable of catching passes.
Scales said last week the coaches have talked about all five tight ends — led by redshirt senior Sean Culkin, redshirt junior Jason Reese and redshirt sophomore Kendall Blanton — contributing in some way, either with plays at tight end or in special teams. (Since then, Culkin suffered a knee issue that kept him out of Monday's practice.)
“I think I’d say I have a good chance to play and contribute,” Scales said. “I don’t know how much or exactly what I’ll be doing, but contribute sure.”
Asked what special teams work he’s been doing so far in camp, Scales said he’s been involved in kickoff return, kickoff and punts.
“Definitely I think we have a chance to go out there and compete and have an impact, some sort of impact,” Okwuegbunam said, “and I think that’s what we’re supposed to believe and that’s what I think.”
Both freshmen appear to be working hard and soaking up as much knowledge as they can from their older teammates.
What’s some of the advice they have received?
“Just listen to my coaches,” Okwuegbunam said. “Being coachable. Working. Working off the field. Not just coming into practice and doing it but also getting reps in my free time.”
We’ll see what happens when the season starts in a few weeks, but Scales and Okwuegbunam look like they are positioning themselves to be contributors as true freshmen this fall.
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