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Missouri tight end Eric Waters adapts to revamped role

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, at 7:13 a.m.

No. 8 Missouri at No. 24 Mississippi

WHEN: 6:45 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.

TV: ESPN

Other story lines

•  HOW WILL MISSOURI USE MAUK? Redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk will play even with senior captain James Franklin returning as the starter. Look for Mauk to be weaved into the game plan much as Pinkel used Chase Daniel under Brad Smith or Franklin under Blaine Gabbert, bringing Mauke in for a series early in the second or third quarter.

•  THE SEARCH FOR 41: Missouri still owns the nation’s longest streak for consecutive games with at least one forced turnover (40). The Tigers boast a plus-14 turnover margin, which leads the SEC and is tied for second in the nation. Missouri’s 17 interceptions are tied for seventh most among FBS teams.

•  RECEIVERS LIMITED? Mississippi has given up only nine passing touchdowns on the season and allows only 223.3 yards per game through the air. It’s a tough matchup to begin with, but it could be tougher if senior L’Damian Washington (toe) and sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham (ankle) are less than 100 percent.

— During spring football, Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson leveled with tight end Eric Waters and, in a way, leveled his ego in the process.

Henson, who was taking over as the Tigers’ new play-caller, envisioned a revamped role for his tight ends — a more traditional blocking role.

He needed players who would embrace his vision, which Waters wasn’t doing.

“The exact words were, ‘I don’t see the fire of blocking in your eyes,’” Waters said.

Rather than sulk, Waters, a senior from Mansfield, Texas, picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Henson.

“I kind of changed everything around from how I approached football in general,” Waters said. “Instead of being a pass-catcher first and a finesse guy to more of gritty, in-your-face, I’m-going-to-drive-you-until-the-whistle-blows kind of guy.”

With help from Waters, Missouri boasts the second-ranked scoring offense and rushing offense in the Southeastern Conference.

“He’s done such a great job blocking that teams feel like they’re having to go man-to-man or one-on-one with us on the edge,” Henson said. “In a way, he’s not catching those balls, but he’s had a big part in why those plays are working. We’re running the football so well when he’s in there that we’re getting one-on-one shots down the field.”

Ironically, the switch probably also boosted Waters’ draft stock, turning him into a more complete player that might be more attractive to NFL scouts.

“This was the main aspect of my game I needed to work on,” Waters said. “Now, being able to put that on the field and make that transition go smoothly, especially for our team, only made it that much better for me. It’s huge.”

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.

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