2011 Pre-Season Position Preview: Specialists

We continue our series of 2011 pre-season position previews with a look at the Missouri Tigers special teams specialists who will play an important role in the Tigers success this year.

During the spring, junior WR T.J. Moe 6'0" 200 emerged as the likely punt returner for 2011. He's tough, and sure-handed, and can make people miss once he has the ball in his hands.

One of the other guys who was handling punts during the spring was sophomore TB Marcus Murphy 5'9" 185, who is may be faster than Moe, and is also a tough, sure-handed, and elusive returner.

Junior WR Gahn McGaffie 5'10" 190 has publicly stated his intent to earn the primary punt-return job. McGaffie has shown tremendous improvement during his time at Missouri, and has turned into a real team-oriented guy.

The very talented RSF, Jimmie Hunt 6'1" 195, would be a very exciting punt-returner, if he can consistently secure the football. Hunt's as elusive a ball-carrier as the Tiger's have, but at times in the spring, he had a little trouble fielding some of the punts.

Either of Missouri's likely starting corners, sophomore E.J. Gaines 5'10" 190, or junior Kip Edwards 6'1" 200, can handle the punt-return duties, and will be competing for the opportunity to do so. Edwards is the only one to have returned a punt for Missouri. He returned 1 punt for 4 yards last year.

Murphy handled the kick-return duties the second half of last season. Last season, Murphy returned 24 kicks for 475 yards (19.8 yards/kick return). He's probably the leading candidate to return kicks for Missouri this year. A year in the program has reportedly paid off big for Murphy, with increased speed.

Murphy's running mate, sophomore TB Henry Josey 5'10" 185 is another speedster, who's a candidate to return kicks. In 2010, Josey had 1 kick return, for 20 yards.

And of course, in 2010, Gahn McGaffie returned 3 kicks for 125 yards and 1 TD.

Moe was also seen returning kicks during the spring.

Missouri has a quality, experienced, returning place-kicker, in senior Grant Ressel 6'1" 190, who has handled the place-kicking duties for the Tigers in each of the past two seasons. After a record-breaking 2009 season, in which Ressel was named a 1st-Team All-American, established an NCAA record for single-season combined kick accuracy (26-27 FG, 39-39 PAT, 98.5%), and led the nation in FG% (96%), his 2010 season fell short of those lofty numbers. Still, Ressel turned in a very solid 2010 season (17-19 FG, 45-47 PAT), for which he received All-Big 12 Honorable Mention. Heading into 2011, Ressel has been named Pre-Season All-Big 12, as well as to the Pre-Season Watch List for the Lou Groza Award.

Ressel's back-up is junior walk-on, Trey Barrow 6'1" 185, who handled the kickoffs a year ago, in addition to being the back-up punter. Barrow averaged 63.5 yards on his 73 kickoffs, including 8 touchbacks. He also made 9 tackles on the year, and was credited with a forced fumble at Nebraska.

Barrow and Ressel each spent a good part of this off-season trying to improve their leg strength. During the spring, both appeared to have increased the distance on their kickoffs.

The third place-kicker is another walk-on, RSF Blake Owens 6'0" 195, who looks to have the potential to develop into a quality kicker for Missouri.

While the success, or failure, of a placement is officially credited to the kicker, everyone associated with it knows that it's a team effort. Of course, the kicker has to be protected, and the snap, and the hold, have to be accurate, and in sync.

That sequence begins with the snap, and we'll take a look at the players who will be handling those duties for Missouri this year. Senior long-snapper Beau Brinkley 6'5" 225 has been outstanding for the Tigers in this capacity. This is Brinkley's final year in a Missouri uniform, and it's no coincidence that over the past three years, that Missouri has had two of the most-accurate place-kickers in the school's history.

Missouri also has the luxury of a quality back-up long-snapper, in junior DE Brad Madison 6'4" 265. Camp requires numerous long-snappers, and some of the guys who have helped out in that regard are senior Terry Dennis 6'3" 200, sophomore LB Michael Brennan 6'3" 220, and RSF DE Matt Hoch 6'5" 260.

Senior WR Brandon Gerau 6'0" 185 enters camp as the first-team holder for placements. Again, this is a critical component of a successful placement. Gerau's primary challenger appears to be the versatile McGaffie. Another player whom we've seen handle placements in the past is senior QB Jimmy Costello 6'3" 212, who has rejoined the team after missing spring football.

Last season, junior Trey Barrow 6'1" 195 averaged 45 yards on 2 punts, both of which were downed inside the 20-yard line, and he rushed for 26 yards on a fake punt. He's the primary candidate to handle the punting duties this year. His primary challenger is the promising RSF, Christian Brinser 6'0" 180, who has shown well during his first year with the squad.

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