Now to take a look at the most curious position on the roster...both in terms of contributors and role...
Andrew Jones (6'5, 245, Jr.)
2009: 8 receptions, 43 yards
2008: 20 receptions, 146 yards
Bill C.: How shocking was it that Mizzou's leading tight end caught just eight passes in 2009? Let's put it this way: my boy Trent Ratterree, OU walk-on (hopefully a soon-to-be former walk-on) and little brother of my high school best friend (my pseudo-nephew, if you will), started the season as OU's third-string tight end and caught passes in just five games all year ... and he had three more receptions for 109 more yards than Andrew Jones, the four-star stud recruit who was supposed to take the reins from Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker and run with them.
Now, I don't want this to be construed as a diss of Jones. Rather, I think it points to a different development -- the use of Jones in Mizzou's 2009 offense signified the end of the tight end as we know it in the Mizzou system. When the offensive line struggled early in the season, Jones was used as much for blocking as for route-running, and when he did go out for passes, Blaine Gabbert rarely looked at him. I remember a play against Oklahoma State, when Mizzou was in the red zone and Jones was wide open on the goal line ... and Gabbert didn't even see him. He was looking for a double-covered Danario instead. Jones' disappearing act was, I'm sure, part his own doing, but it also signaled a shift that we have talked about elsewhere. It really does appear that Mizzou is adding a little bit more of power/size to their offense and departing from the Daniel-Coffman-Maclin system, where seemingly everybody was an eligible receiver, and the only difference between WRs and TEs was size.
While Jones was barely part of the passing game, he and his cohort of sort-of tight ends (Beau Brinkley and Michael Egnew oscillated between WR and TE on the depth chart all year) were part of what might have been Mizzou's biggest strength at the end of the season: open-field blocking. So many of Danario Alexander's long receptions were of the catch-and-run variety instead of a straight bomb, and while Danario deserves more plaudits than he has received for his ability to get yards after catch (rarely will you see somebody so capable of both outrunning a defender or running through one), the open-field blocking by the end of the year, especially in both the Kansas and Navy games, seemed both impeccable and contagious (I really want to point out that the open-field blocking was probably one of the main reasons Mizzou ran so many sideline passes instead of rushes against Navy, but that horse is dead, so I'll move on), and guys like Jones, Brinkley and Kemp were major reasons why.
What can we expect from Andrew Jones? Will we see a further shift in the usage of the tight end, or will Danario's departure end up with certain players/positions reassuming old roles? Will we see Jones becoming the 3rd-and-6 go-to guy that we thought he would become this year, or will we see him blocking for the go-to guy in the open field? As always, I have no answers (hopefully you haven't noticed that that is normally the case), but it will be one of the more intriguing things to watch when spring practice rolls around.
(Then again, we might not be able to glean anything whatsoever from spring practice -- Jones and Egnew were Gabbert's go-to guys last spring, and we see how that ended up...)
Michael Egnew (6'6, 230, Jr.)
2009: 3 receptions, 25 yards
2008: 4 receptions, 22 yards
Bill C.: The emergence of Danario Alexander potentially damaged no one player more than Mike Egnew, who had a solid spring (which ended early due to a high ankle sprain) and an almost non-existent fall. Egnew saw the field quite a bit but caught only three balls all year, which was less than the average number of passes he seemed to catch in a given scrimmage last spring. Again, we know the potential causes -- maybe 1) Danario was playing too well in the "big receiver" role to worry about anybody else, or 2) the Mizzou coaching staff made a conscious choice to move TEs and big WRs to more of a blocking role as the summer and fall progressed, or just 3) Egnew didn't practice well and seemed to have already maxed out his abilities. We'll start to learn the answer come springtime, but there's no question that Egnew's 2009 season did not play out like we thought it would twelve (or even five) months ago.
RPT: Every Mizzou fan wants to compare tight ends to Martin Rucker or Chase Coffman. Every fan from outside MU wants to compare Mizzou's tight ends to wide receivers. Michael Egnew is in the odd position of falling somewhere directly in the center of all of these comparisons. He doesn't seem to possess the physicality of Rucker. We don't know if he has the ball skills of Coffman (although to be fair, I've NEVER seen anyone with ball skills anywhere CLOSE to those of Coffman). He doesn't come with the reputation of shiftiness and explosiveness that many of his receiver counterparts do. But he seems to be an curious combination of parts of all of these different roles, which makes his development so intriguing. I'm not sure he becomes the redzone threat or the sideline fade target that we all hoped for to replace Coffman. But from what little we've seen, he looks like a FANTASTIC option on short timing routes, especially when placed opposite a linebacker. The quick slant, quick out, and the inside route of the four verticals all cater extremely well to Eggo's skill set, especially if he's "hidden" as a "tight end."
Beau Brinkley (6'5, 230, Jr.)
Bill C.: Open-field blocker and deep-snapper extraordinaire, Brinkley actually got the start against Nevada over Andrew Jones, seemingly as a wake-up call to Jones (the next week, he was listed as a WR on the depth chart, just to confuse everybody), but caught no passes and didn't see just a ton of time on the field. Even if his job is simply to make perfect snaps to punters and holders and occasionally come on the field to block, it wouldn't surprise me to see Brinkley end up with a scholarship soon (if we have any extras to give) because he's so freaking good at the snapping.
RPT: I'm starting to realize that I think I'm guilty of failing to realize just how damn good Brinkley was last year. I presume many other Mizzou fans may be in the same boat. I'm having trouble recalling any bad deep snaps last season, and it seems that if I went back and watch the tape, I could probably count the bad snaps on one hand. If anyone thinks Mizzou's PAT streak with Crossett, Wolfert, and Ressel has nothing to do with Brinkley and Brock Christopher, you're fooling yourself. On top of that, Brinkley has become one of Mizzou's best punt coverage men, holding down the middle of the field especially well, often arriving at the ballcarrier around the same time as the gunners (and sometimes, even before the ball).
Alex Sanders (6'5, 230, RSFr.)
Bill C.: If we are relying on December practice reports for a bit of optimism, then I have to admit ... I'm quietly optimistic about Alex Sanders. (Then again, who am I not quietly optimistic about?) Sanders tore his knee up as a senior at Springfield Glendale but had managed to put together some mighty impressive highlights before then. According to the film at least, Glendale used Sanders as more of a receiver than a tight end -- which, before this fall's shift in roles, seemed to be ideal for a tight end in this system -- and it seemed that he might have an opportunity to see the field pretty quickly once healthy. My optimism for him grew quite a bit when he seemingly made a noteworthy catch in every December practice. Considering Egnew and Brinkley haven't exactly lit the world aflame in terms of pass-catching ability, if Sanders is a solid blocker he could actually be a candidate to suddenly show up as #2 on the depth chart, making a ton of fans react with a resounding "Who??"
Then again, if we are moving toward more of an H-Back system for tight ends, he could end up a man without a position, like Gilbert Moye or Quincy Wade, the Rover who got lost in the shuffle when Mizzou moved from a 4-4 to a 4-3 earlier in the decade.
Matt Hoch (6'5, 230, Fr.)
Harlan, IA, ***
Bill C.: One of the most fun parts of following recruiting is watching the complete and total surprises unfold. We follow the recruitment of certain players -- the Lucas and Gabbert types -- for a year or more, but then guys we either haven't heard of or we wrote off long ago appear out of nowhere and snatch up a scholarship. Matt Hoch, brother of stud tackle Dan Hoch (duh), was down to Iowa and Mizzou over the summer, but he chose Iowa, and we all basically forgot about him. But then he showed up, out of the blue, on an official visit in December, and by the end of the weekend, he was a Tiger. But more intriguing than his appearance in Columbia was the position at which he was rumored to have been recruited. Whereas he was seen as a defensive end for much of his recruitment, it turned out that Mizzou was going to bring him in as an H-Back, a cross between what we think of as the tight end and fullback positions. As I mentioned yesterday, Mizzou has been recruiting more big running backs in the last couple of years, finally landing one in Greg White, and it is certainly interesting to think of what wrinkles might emerge in the Mizzou offense between now and next fall. Needless to say, there is no other player on the roster recruited as an H-Back, so if Hoch is as fast a learner as his older brother, he could see the field very quickly.
Eric Waters (6'4, 215, Fr.)
Mansfield, TX, ***
Bill C.: Once you've been a Rivals subscriber for a few years, you start to get a pretty good feel for how recruitment goes. Rarely is somebody's recruitment totally unique. That said, Waters' path to Mizzou was certainly something I hadn't seen before. He committed to Mizzou last spring, then not only de-committed over the summer, but said he had never actually committed in the first place (when he clearly had). He started flirting heavily with Baylor, and annoyed Mizzou fans (including myself) wrote him off. And then he committed to Mizzou again (or not again, but for the first time...I guess...whatever), and that was that. He is now officially enrolled at Mizzou and will be around for spring practice.
So the next question is ... how will Waters be used? At 6'4, 215, he certainly doesn't fit the bill for what we think of as an H-Back type, so are we going to see two different types of tight ends emerging for Mizzou? The H-Back type (Jones, Hoch), and the lanky receiver/open-field blocker type (Egnew, Brinkley, Sanders, Waters) who spend as much time on the WR depth chart as TE? No idea. It is certainly something to watch in the spring, however.
2010 vs 2009
So far, we've previewed two units that return intact from 2009, and we've previewed a wide receiver unit that has a ton of players fighting for a select few slots in the rotation. This position, however, is a mystery not only for who might fill the depth chart, but how they will be used. That makes it unique, to say the least.