COLUMBIA, Mo. – Kendall Blanton made one of the best plays of Missouri’s 2016 season when the tight end reached out and used his right hand to snag a touchdown pass from Drew Lock.
Lock faked a handoff to Ish Witter, which sucked up a safety, and found an open Blanton in the end zone for the 15-yard score against Middle Tennessee State. Blanton’s spectacular catch saved a slightly overthrown pass.
“I want to make more plays like it and better plays in the future,” Blanton, a junior from Blue Springs said after Wednesday’s practice when asked about that catch. “I definitely want to be known for more than that.”
Tight end Sean Culkin is the only starter Missouri must replace on offense. Senior Jason Reese and Blanton are first in line to see an increase in playing time.
The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Blanton, a Blue Springs South graduate, is a quarterback’s dream.
“His catch radius is just huge. His blocking is through the roof,” Reese said.
At Missouri, an annual talking point around this time of the year is that the Tigers are going to use the tight ends more in the passing game. That drum is being pounded again this preseason.
Tight end involvement in the pass game did see an uptick last season in the first year of offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s system. Culkin, Blanton, Reese and Tyler Hanneke combined for 50 receptions.
That was the most by Missouri’s tight end position since it produced 53 receptions in 2011, with 50 of those coming from Michael Egnew.
Culkin led the group with 24 grabs last year. Blanton followed with 16 catches for 161 yards with three TDs.
“His size and length lends itself to him being a big part of what we’re doing in the passing game,” Heupel said.
Lock and Blanton are reconnecting after Blanton was sidelined all spring following February surgery to repair ligament damage in his right ankle. Blanton said he suffered the injury while working out in the Devine Pavilion with safety Dominic Nelson.
“We were going hard, and I rolled it. I stepped on his foot and rolled it,” Blanton said. “I just thought it was a real bad sprain at first. We had to go get some X-rays, and that’s when I found out I’d miss the rest of the spring.”
Blanton said he used his time sidelined to polish up on the mental aspect of the position.
“I really studied the game a lot more since I couldn’t do nothing else but study with my injury,” Blanton said. “I think my overall understanding is way better.”
Blanton’s frame makes him an ideal target to isolate in the red zone, but it’s a myth that the ball only comes his way inside the 20. Of his 16 catches last year, 13 came on plays that started outside the red zone.
Blanton was Lock’s tight end during a two-minute drill in Tuesday’s closed practice, and Lock said he connected with him on back-to-back passes.
“Kendall has worked really hard on understanding coverages and defenses to where he knows how to adjust to what look he’s getting,” Lock said. “Not once do I think Kendall is just a red-zone guy, save him for 25 and in. No, he’s a full-field guy to me.”