OXFORD, Miss. — If you pick up any roster or depth chart for the Missouri Tigers, the abbreviation next to Martin Rucker’s name says “TE” for tight end. However, the last two weeks Rucker has moved around so much in the offense, he could just as easily be attached to a UTL label — as the team’s utility player.
“I am a senior and any way that they can put the ball in my hand and let me go with it I am willing to do,” Rucker said.
Rucker’s offensive plate has been busy the last two weeks. The senior has been moved around in the offense in a manner that must be frustrating for opposing defenses. The former all-Big 12 selection is still the team’s starter at tight end but is being moved around to different spots on the field to create mismatches.
Against Illinois, the St. Joseph native lined up as a running back on the goal line, first as a blocker and ball carrier, then took a snap out of the shotgun at quarterback for a trick play. And after all of that, he still found time to bring in a career-high 10 receptions for 86 yards.
The trend continued Saturday at Ole Miss. Rucker took another snap from the shotgun and displayed his ability to run after the catch on a second quarter touchdown catch. The 255-pounder made a catch from Chase Daniel on an underneath pattern and galloped 40 yards for the score. The catch-and-run was a career-long touchdown reception for Rucker and was just another example of his versatility.
Daniel, whose touchdown pass to Rucker was one of five he threw on the day, split out as a receiver the first time Rucker lined up under center against the Rebels. To Daniel, the shift was a welcome reprieve.
“Anytime you can get the ball into someone else’s hands for a change it’s a good thing,” Daniel said. Coach Gary Pinkel noted a critical third down play in the first half that led to a Missouri touchdown. Rucker broke three tackles to help move the chains. Rucker’s size and unusual speed for someone of his stature makes him a viable option in situations like that.
“He broke about three tackles on that play to get the conversion on that and it was a big play,” Pinkel said. “He’s one of those guys on the perimeter that we love to get the ball in the hands of.”
His recent venture as field general have even given him hope of being able to fire a pass to one of his fellow receivers. But he isn’t holding his breath.
“We tried it in practice and it didn’t go very well,” Rucker said with a chuckle. Rucker is always up for new ways of being used in the offense that can keep the game fun on and off the field, evidenced by his black and gold Mr. T-like Mohawk that he recently cut off. The black-and-gold addition, he said was just a one week thing.
The offensive shake-ups, however, is something that he hopes will continue. Having played numerous positions in his earlier football years, Rucker seems up to the task of any offensive takings the coaching staff wants him to do. Even place kicking.
But they haven’t asked him about that yet. “I was a kicker in high school so I’d definitely be up to doing that too,” Rucker said.