Tight ends strong, still facing questions

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As we continue our position-by-position examination of the Missouri Tigers, we get to what may be the most settled position on the football field. There don't seem to be a whole lot of questions facing the Tiger tight ends during camp. However, there will be some interesting things to watch when two-a-days open on August 8th.
Was Howard's spring a fluke?
Junior DeQuincy Howard looked like the most improved player on the roster during spring practice. Howard has always had the physical tools, but has never, to be blunt, put things together on the field. He did so in the spring, making a number of nice catches. In fact, he was even listed atop the depth chart for a week or so, ahead of returning starter Martin Rucker.
It would take a phenomenal fall camp from Howard, or a lapse or an injury to Rucker, for DQ to take the starting job away. We don't expect that to happen. However, what has to happen is for Howard to solidify himself as a solid reserve and a legitimate receiving threat this fall.
Mizzou's tight ends combined for 51 catches a season ago. Howard did not have one. He will have to fill the void left by Victor Sesay. Sesay caught 31 balls a season ago. Rucker's production should increase, so Mizzou doesn't need that much out of Howard, but they do need a solid season of around 20 catches. Howard hasn't always been the strongest practice player on the team so fall camp will be important for him to show he's turned things around for good.
Is Coffman as good as he looks?
You could make an argument that Chase Coffman was the most impressive player Missouri signed last February. Take one look at his video and you see a kid with an amazing ability to catch the ball.
Of course, he did that at Ray-Pec High School. It will be interesting to see how his skills translate to Division One football. While Rucker is a near cinch to start, what happens if Howard falters? There is Brian Barmann, but he's got as many college plays under his belt as Coffman and the other freshmen. The possibility hasn't been mentioned, but Coffman might have as good a chance to see the field this season as just about any incoming true freshman.
It's almost certain Coffman has added some weight to his 6-foot-6, 210-pound frame since signing day. If he comes in physically ready to play, it will be interesting to see if the Kansas City product has the skills to get on the field in 2005.
Does everyone stay put?
You've got Rucker, Howard and Barmann returning. Howard will not be done until 2006, Rucker until 2007 and Barmann until 2008. Coffman comes in and will be around at least that long, as will Jon Gissinger and Chris Hudgins, both brought in as tight ends.
That is a total of six scholarship tight ends and no seniors. In fact, four of the six are freshmen. It seems somewhat unlikely that every player stays at this spot. It also seems unlikely a switch would be made as soon as fall camp. However, the performances of these players and the depth chart going into the season could help make a determination as to who moves.
The most likely candidates to move at this point seem to be Barmann and Hudgins. Barmann has good hands, but he may not be the athletic type of tight end that the others are. It would seem the Tigers' new offensive scheme would favor a tight end who can get vertical and stretch the field. Hudgins may be that guy, but we've never seen him in action. He can play on both sides of the ball and defense would certainly seem like an option. With Gissinger, he was recruited as much for his longsnapping ability as his pass-catching, but he isn't going to another position. Neither are Coffman, Howard or Rucker.
Also see our analysis at other positions:
Wide receiver
Tomorrow, we'll answer some of the key questions facing the Tiger offensive line this August. will also be at every open practice throughout fall camp for the Tigers. To talk about it with other Tiger fans, visit our premium forum, The Tigers' Lair.