Redshirt freshman in position to revive Tigers' tight end spot
ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- Sean Culkin picked up the baggage when he signed.
Michael Egnew. Chase Coffman. Martin Rucker. And, of course, Kellen Winslow.
When that many greats have held the same position at the same school, the bar for newcomers is set pretty high. And former tight ends aren't afraid to offer current Tigers reminders.
"I really got to know Rucker and Coffman when I was at (former Mizzou defensive lineman) Lorenzo Williams' camp," Culkin says. "I went down there to help out in Springfield, and got to hang out with them in the tight end group. So, it was really cool. I had talked to those guys before, but it was the first time I had met them face to face. I'm trying to earn my stripes with them."
The duo gave Culkin some simple advice.
"Just to be a Mizzou tight end," he recalls.
His delayed chance comes now. When Mizzou started fall camp this week, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound redshirt freshman appeared atop the depth chart. He will fight to keep an edge on Eric Waters, a senior whose time at Mizzou, to this point, hasn't measured up.
While Waters will look to rewrite his collegiate career in one season, Culkin offers the excitement of the unknown. He would have played as a true freshman in 2012. He impressed coaches in camp, but a broken finger sidelined him before the season. Instead of thrusting him into the second half of a sinking year, the team protected Culkin's redshirt. He took advantage of the time, packing on 20 pounds and trimming his 40-yard-dash to the 4.5-second-range.
"Just trying to get my body ready for this league," he says. "My hips are getting looser. I feel faster. I feel stronger."
The added weight should help as the Tigers continue to tweak their tight ends for the Southeastern Conference. While past tight ends played more like receivers, added blocking help on the line is a necessity now.
"We just feel like having those guys in there can give us a little change of pace, protect our edges a little bit and maybe give us some advantages in the run game," Mizzou offensive coordinator Josh Henson says of Culkin, Waters and third-string option Clayton Echard. "They're all big, talented receivers. You watch them out there running around, and they can do those things. It's really the rest of playing tight end that they haven't had experience at."
But Culkin doesn't think lining up next to a tackle eliminates the opportunity for big grabs.
"When you're called to block, block," he says. "When you're mismatched, catch the ball and make plays. I think there is a lot we can do. There are lot of places we can be to create mismatches, keep the defense on its heels."
Maybe the job responsibilities that come with being a Mizzou tight end have shifted some.
Still, a healthy Culkin seems to be the team's best bet as it searches for someone to keep the position's great tradition alive.
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.