During bowl practices, and in anticipation of Blaine Gabbert's early departure to the NFL, ShowMeMizzou.com spoke to some of those who would be most immediately impacted by the sudden vacancy at the starting QB position.
ShowMeMizzou.com spoke with a pair of young QBs who will be immersed in the competition for the job as Missouri's starting QB, and to their position coach, Offensive Coordinator, David Yost. Coach Yost talked about the work that his young QBs did during the early bowl practices.
"The first day, we let James (Franklin) get a little A-B work," began Coach Yost. "Then, we decided that the more we can get for Ashton (Glaser), and Tyler (Gabbert), would be better. Because James had gotten all of that work during the season. So, moving those two guys up, and letting them take 20-30 reps a day, in 7-on-7, and 11-on-11, was a great deal for them."
"Tyler (Gabbert), I think, showed a lot of the things that I think you saw at the end of two-a-days," explained Coach Yost. "Kind of that steady progression. When he came in early, I think he was pressing. Last year, when he came in, in January, he tried to do probably too much in the spring, or tried to win the job with every throw. Which, it's an accumulation of things. It's doing it over and over, again, and letting yourself just do what you do. And, I think you see that now, a higher percentage of him just playing the position, playing the position of QB. He does a great job of seeing coverage. He has a real good knowledge of what we're trying to do on plays, and getting to the right spots on them. We're still constantly working on footwork, footwork, footwork, and the timing. Because, as he gets that down, that's when he'll become more and more accurate. He was better in the A-B practices than he was in two-a-days, but I think he can still get a lot better, and I think spring will be really a good thing for him, and I think you saw a little glimpse of what his capabilities are. So, it will be a good competition there."
"And, then Ashton (Glaser)," continued Coach Yost. "You can see just the progress from a year ago, running the offense. Understanding when the coverage changes, getting to the field hitches, going away from roll coverage, or invert coverage..................... It's a learning curve to it. And, I think you see Ashton coming along in that respect, and being able to really execute and run the offense at a higher (level). And now it's just continuing to develop the decision making. When can you, and when can't you, make throws? This guy should be open, but is he open? So, you've got to be able to go through progressions, and make decisions. That's what we're continuing to work on."
"Those two guys," said Coach Yost. "I think it was a great time for them to get a lot of reps. And now, I think they're both champing at the bit for spring football to start, so they can get out there and compete with James (Franklin)."
ShowMeMizzou spoke with Tyler Gabbert 6'0" 197, and he talked about his development as a QB, and the upcoming opportunity.
"I'm just trying to get better," said Tyler Gabbert. "From spring ball until August, was a big difference. And, from August, until now, is a big difference. What's helped me a lot, is on the scout team, I've practiced reading the first and second team defense, you know, reading the safeties, checking coverage, line stunts, and everything like that. I've translated that into our offense, and I've put the pieces together, and everything's starting to come together."
Heading into spring ball, Missouri will have four returning QBs, including James Franklin 6'2" 228, Ashton Glaser 6'0" 220, Tyler Gabbert, and a walk-on who transferred from Lindenwood, and who will be a sophomore in 2011, Ryan Howerton. In high school, Howerton was a teammate of OL Justin Britt, in Lebanon, MO, and a guy that the Missouri staff had encouraged to walk on.
Only one of those four have ever played a down of college football. In 2010, freshman James Franklin played in 10 games, and rushed the football 23 times, for 116 yards (5 yards/carry), and 2 TDs. Franklin posted a passer efficiency rating of 151.46, on a limited number of pass attempts. Franklin completed 11 of 14 pass attempts (78.6%), for 106 yards (9.6 yards/completion), and 1 TD. He also threw 1 interception. Franklin talked about his first year at Missouri.
"It's always good to get reps," said Franklin. "Next year, it won't be like it's new to me. Having had this experience will really help. It won't be like I'm out there for the first time. I'm really thankful to have gotten a few reps in here this season."
When I asked Franklin about the possibility of him being the starting QB next year, he pointed out that practically the whole offense will be seniors next year, and he indicated that they will be a big help, because they have so much experience.
"I think I'm doing okay," Franklin replied, answering my question regarding his development as a QB. "I was blessed to be able to come in early, with a big opportunity........................ Coming in early really helped me develop, because I got to know the system better. It's just like with anything. The more you do it, the beter you get. It almost becomes second nature. I'm really thankful that I got the opportunity, and got the head start, because it feels really good whenever I'm in there, with the system. It's not as new as it was before.................... The biggest part I need to work on is reading the defense. Making the throws can be easy, but if there's a defender there, then it's not so easy. So, the biggest thing that I neeed to work on is just reading the coverages, and the defense."
Franklin battled through a November illness that interrupted his progress, and reduced his playing time. Franklin told me that he had lost 18 pounds during his illness, and was just getting back to near full strength. Coach Yost talked about Franklin's development.
"(Franklin's) gotten all of the (second team) reps," said Coach Yost. "He's gotten better and better throughout the year, understanding the offense. The things that we're constantly working on with him, and I think he's made a big commitment to doing this, is seeing the coverage, understanding the coverage, and then working our plays within the coverage. I think that's a lot of new things for him that maybe he didn't do in high school."
Coach Yost said that he's constantly challenging Franklin with multiple variables, in practice, to put more pressure on him.
"Those are the ones I try to put on (Franklin) more in practice," explained Coach Yost. "Where he's got to do a lot of pre-snap analysis, snap, read, and then getting himself to the right things. Because I know that he can go back, and if I just give him one, two, and three, to go through. And, he knows exactly what progression he wants to look at, and he's gone through, and he's made good decisions, for a young guy, really at a high level. Now, it's kind of trying to put more pressure on him to do more, and learn more, faster. And, we do that more in practice."
In games, Coach Yost had limited Franklin to plays with which he is more comfortable.
"When (Franklin's) gotten into games, those (multiple variables) aren't the plays that we're calling for," admitted Coach Yost. "We're calling the ones that I know he feels comfortable with, and that he can go execute. But, we need to get him comfortable with, and be able to execute all of our plays. In practice, what we try to do, is give him the toughest situations."
Coach Yost talked about the challenge for the QB of making the read on the zone read play.
"The option, (Franklin) does a really good job of that," explained Coach Yost. "Because he did so much of that in high school, he has a good, natural sense for it."
Coach Yost pointed out that with option football, you're not going to be perfect.
I asked Franklin about making the decision to give it, or keep it, on the zone read play. He laughed heartily. And, he explained that sometimes the defender will try to disguise their reaction to that play, making it a real challenge.
"I'm struggling with that a litle bit," admitted Franklin, still laughing at his own imperfection. "But hopefully, I can get better."
As I listened to Coach Yost, it became really obvious that Franklin will be ahead of Glaser and Tyler Gabbert entering spring ball. For one thing, because of the level of work and training that he has undergone as the number two QB during the 2010 season. Among other things, Franklin has worked extensively on handling the blitz.
"James (Franklin) has seen tons of blitz all season," explained Coach Yost. "Because that's what we work on, first and foremost, every week....................... That's where James (Franklin) would be definitely ahead at this time, because he's seen blitz. He's changed protections. He's slid the line. He's gotten us in the right routes, and those type of things."
Coach Yost indicated that he feels comfortable with the quality of the QBs that Missouri has on its roster.
"I think all three of those guys are really progressing to the point where it's going to be great competition," said Coach Yost. "It's an open competition, and the best guy is going to play for us. (Our QB depth) is getting better all of the time. Our (QB) depth is better than what it was, when Chase Daniel left."
"The reason we recruited them is that we think they can be high level players," explained Coach Yost. "None of that has changed. I think we have really, really good talent there. It will be a good competition."
Tyler Gabbert indicated that he's planning to take advantage of the off-season workouts to get stronger, quicker, and more agile. He's looking forward to spring ball, and the opportunity to compete for the starting job. In the interim, he's planning to dedicate himself to film study, and improving his fundamentals.
"I think what I did out here kind of shows my growth," said Tyler Gabbert. "I think people are starting to notice that a little bit. I'm just going to continue to get better, just work on fundamentals, and every aspect of the game. And, just go out there, and mainly have fun. Not stress, or push it, because that's when you start pressing...................... Hopefully, I'll climb the depth chart."
Franklin talked about his plans for the off-season workouts.
"I definitely want to kick it up a notch," said Franklin. "(I'm) talking about working out in the weight room, increasing my speed, and my explosiveness, and my strength..................... Also just work on reading the defenses, and having the right footwork, to deliver the ball."