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2011 Walkthrough: Tight Ends

All photos via Bill Carter.
All photos via Bill Carter.

Running Backs
Wide Receivers

A year ago, we spent a good amount of verbiage, both online and in print, telling you how it appeared the tight end position was changing in the Missouri offense.  Matt Hoch had been recruited as an H-Back, Missouri was attempting to recruit larger running backs, and it appeared that Missouri coaches were going to attempt to bring in a more power-based aspect to the Tiger offense.  Then, in 2010, Michael Egnew became an All-American tight end by basically serving as Martin Rucker in Chase Coffman’s body, and a bunch of 5’9, 190-pound running backs ran wild in the Missouri backfield.

So were we wrong, or were we just premature?  If there is any word that describes Gary Pinkel and his staff, it is ‘pragmatic.’  Pinkel has found success at Missouri by thinking in the long-term, so even though there was little extra size in the Missouri offense in 2010, it might just be a matter of time.  Hoch redshirted, as did big back Greg White.  As they come into their own, the Missouri offense could evolve into something different, especially with, perhaps, a quarterback more suited to power running.

So what does that mean for 2011?  We’ll see.  Will Egnew catch another 90 balls from a different quarterback?  Will Andrew Jones work his way back into the rotation?  Will either of the youngsters -- Hoch or 2010 special teamer Eric Waters -- break through?  Typically when everybody returns at a given position, there is little intrigue; you know who the starter is, and the overall usage doesn’t change much.  But we are both curious and intrigued about watching this position in the spring.  You should be too.

Michael Egnew (6’6, 235, Sr., Plainview, TX)

2010: 90 catches, 762 yards (8.5), 5 TD / 72.0% catch rate, 6.1 yds/target
2009: 3 catches, 25 yards (8.3) / 60.0% catch rate, 5.0 yds/target
2008: 4 catches, 22 yards (5.5) / 50.0% catch rate, 2.8 yds/target

RPT: Remember one year ago when we were wondering where the tight end position disappeared to in 2009? Me neither, and Michael Egnew is the reason why. There’s quite a bit I could say on Egnew, though none of it would be anything you hadn’t gathered for yourselves watching him in 2010. So, instead, I let Bill and his numbers talk for me. (Delegating responsibility is awesome, which is why Bill is responsible for 99 percent of the work around here while I hitch a free ride on his gravy train).

Bill C.: Michael Egnew is not quite as strong as Martin Rucker, and his hands are not quite as good as Chase Coffman’s.  But I’m pretty sure he and T.J. Moe made for the best zone-killing tandem in college football in 2010.  After two seasons in which we read raving practice report after raving practice report about Egnew (but saw him making little impact during a game), we were somewhat skeptical of his role heading into this past fall.  Silly us.  After being overshadowed by Coffman as a freshman and, strangely enough, Danario Alexander (who basically ran tight end routes) as a sophomore, Egnew found the top of the depth chart and thrived, catching a silly number of passes (40-50 more than just about any other tight end in the country) and winning All-American honors.

The main question for Egnew is simple: can he develop the same pass-and-catch rapport with 2011’s starting quarterback -- be it James Franklin, Tyler Gabbert or Ashton Glaser -- that he had with Blaine Gabbert?  Every QB needs a good zone buster, a guy camps out in a hole in the zone seven yards upfield, so one has to figure Starting Quarterback A will have no trouble flipping to Egnew over and over again.  Egnew is not explosive, but Mizzou reliably gained six yards every time Gabbert looked Egnew’s way, and that is a great weapon to have.  With no consistent deep threat, Mizzou had to beat defenses with efficiency.  Thanks to Egnew and Moe, they were able to do just that.

Andrew Jones (6’5, 240, Sr., Smithville, MO)

2010: 1 catch, 7 yards / 50.0% catch rate, 3.5 yds/target
2009: 8 catches, 43 yards (5.4) / 58.3% catch rate, 3.1 yds/target
2008: 20 catches, 146 yards (7.3) / 83.3% catch rate, 6.1 yds/target

RPT: Wait wait wait... ANDREW JONES IS A SENIOR?? Where in the world did his career go???

Bill C.: It’s hard to figure out where Andrew Jones went wrong.  With Chase Coffman battling injury, Jones became a semi-reliable target for Chase Daniel late in his true freshman season.  He and Egnew both played as true freshmen, but for their first two years, Jones was ahead in the race.  But somewhere in the middle of his sophomore year, Blaine Gabbert simply stopped looking his way, be it because of merit, reliability, or a simple tendency toward favoring other receivers (like that Alexander guy).  Despite spending most of 2009 as No. 1 on the depth chart, Jones was targeted maybe once a game and caught a subpar 58.3% of those passes.  For a guy without elite speed or size, hands need to be your biggest asset; Jones neither got much of an opportunity to prove his worth in 2009 or 2010, nor did much with the opportunities he got.  He was lapped by Egnew this past fall, and his biggest value seemed to be as an enthusiastic cheerleader on the sideline.  (Seriously, watch any clip of a Missouri player running out of bounds toward the Mizzou bench last year; chances are, Jones is the first guy patting him on the helmet and shouting.)

With a new quarterback comes a new (and final) opportunity for Mr. Jones to make something of his four-star Rivals rating.  He was one of Mizzou’s best recruiters as the vaunted class of 2008 was taking shape, and it’s easy to root for him to succeed.  Unfortunately, it’s been just as easy to forget he exists over the last 15 months or so.  With two young, highly-regarded ends below him on the depth chart, he will need to have a really nice spring.

Eric Waters (6’4, 235, So., Mansfield, TX)

RPT: Eric Waters would be on an inside track for a selection to the 2011 RPT "My Guys" team if it were not for the presence of one Michael Egnew. Sometimes it’s hard to accurately gauge the progress of early enrollees, simply because the dearth of them means you’re more likely to hear about them in practice reports than you would once the entire recruiting class shows up in August. But with Waters, from everything we hear, the positive reports and the playing time in his true freshman year seem largely justified. His 6’4", 235-pound listing seems so much bigger than he appeared in his high school tape. What makes Waters’ quick ascension almost even more impossible is that he spent much of his youth focusing on basketball rather than football, yet the coaches felt relatively comfortable that the learning curve wasn’t too steep to prevent him from avoiding a redshirt. I’m not sure what that speaks well of -- his physical game or his mental game -- but either way, it’s encouraging.

Bill C.: Built more like Michael Egnew than Andrew Jones, Waters did indeed see the field, even if mostly as a special-teamer, this past fall.  He passes the eyeball test, and beyond that, you just have to trust the excitement the staff showed in him by playing him despite two juniors ahead of him on the depth chart.  If the coaches know anything at this point, it is the tight end position, and Waters appears to be next in line to thrive as a pass-catching, zone-busting end.  Whoever wins the quarterback job will have three years to get to know this guy.

Matt Hoch (6’5, 245, RSFr., Harlan, IA)

RPT: Mizzou’s own H-Back experiment is back after a redshirt season, and I’m still not sure what to make of him simply because I don’t know what the Missouri coaches will make of him. Is he a tight end who was lied to by the Mizzou staff to get his commitment? Are Yost and Co. serious about giving this H-Back (ahem, FULLBACK!!!) thing a test run? All other questions about Hoch are somewhat irrelevant until these questions are answered. For now, let’s say that the ceiling is Chris Cooley and the floor is Andrew Jones. And, yes, this is a 517-story tall building I just created.

Bill C.: Now that wasn’t very nice to Andrew Jones, now, was it?  I’m not giving up on you, Andrew!

Otherwise … ditto.  How the staff uses Matt Hoch will give some serious hints as to where they intend to take this offense in future seasons.  Waters really is in more of the Egnew, "line him up wide and have purists scoff at him being listed as a ‘tight end’" model, but Hoch is built like … well, an old-school, hand-on-the-ground tight end.  Just for pure curiosity’s sake, Hoch is one of the top players on my own, personal "Players to Watch in April" list.

Beau Brinkley (6’5, 230, Sr., Kearney, MO)

2010: A bunch of perfect long snaps
2009: A bunch of perfect long snaps
2008: A bunch of perfect long snaps

RPT: What can I say that the stats didn’t? All I know is we take him for granted every year. Hey Bill, you care to reminisce about Mizzou’s long snapping and punting from, say, 2006 and prior?

Bill C.: I still have flashbacks to the 1999 Missouri-Nebraska game, in which back-to-back long snaps flew over Jared Gilpin’s (I think) head, allowing Nebraska to build approximately a 77-0 lead five minutes into the game.  So, no. I do not care to reminisce.

INCOMING: Brandon Hannah (6’3, 230, Fr., St. Louis, MO, ***)

Bill C.: For Missouri fans who closely follow recruiting, Brandon Hannah’s name has been floating out on the horizon for what seems like a decade.  He has been known as an athletic marvel and a two-sport star (football & basketball), seemingly, since he was about six, but injuries have simply wrecked his high school football career to date.  Two different knee injuries cost him his sophomore and junior seasons, and a back injury cost him his senior year.  He still earned three stars from Rivals, which should show you the potential many think he still has (the fact that Mizzou still continues to hold him as a commitment despite the injuries should tell you something too), but it’s all potential so far.  I assume he will redshirt in 2011 and try to build his body from scratch under the watchful eye of the strength & conditioning staff.  Hopefully his Kirk Farmer-esque, snake-bitten run of injury has run its course.

2011 vs 2010

This is the third consecutive unit we have previewed in which all major players return. We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again: this offense could not possibly be more favorable for a new quarterback. He’s guaranteed to have one guaranteed seven-yard option in Egnew, and he could have anywhere between one and three more as well.

This unit is notable mostly for what happens below first-string on the depth chart. Andrew Jones will be attempting to fend off two youngsters and salvage his senior season on the squad, while Eric Waters will likely continue his grooming as Egnew Replacement in 2012. Matt Hoch, meanwhile, will show us where this offense may be headed in future seasons. It’s all worth watching, even though we know beyond a shadow of a doubt who the starter will be in 2011.