On Tuesday, the Missouri Tigers resume spring practice after a week off for spring break. Prior to the break, Missouri held five of their allotted fifteen practices this spring, including a scrimmage right before the break. ShowMeMizzou.com pauses to summarize what we’ve learned about Missouri from the first one-third of Spring Football.
Prior to spring practice, Coach Pinkel had announced that the QB position would be open to competition, citing the sub-par, injury-plagued 2012 season experienced by returning starter James Franklin, who enters his senior season ranked second on Missouri’s career list for passer efficiency. Coach Pinkel said that because Franklin played through injury, and was unable to practice, for much of the 2012 season, that he and his staff were simply unable to evaluate Franklin’s play, and informed Franklin in January that the position would be open to competition. Early on, it appears that Franklin has embraced the challenge.
Thus far this spring, Franklin has quickly separated himself from the other QBs on the roster, and he appears to be the clear-cut leader in the competition for the starting job. He’s out-performed all four of Missouri’s other scholarship QBs by a considerable margin, in effect turning the competition into a battle for the back-up job, and a leg up going forward as his heir-apparent. The obvious difference between Franklin and the other QBs is that on a daily basis, he’s by far the most accurate passer of the group. That’s not to say that any of the other four QBs are not capable. They have each had their moments this spring, and they each show the ability to develop into the job. But presently, Franklin stands apart from the others in the level and consistency of his performance, particularly with respect to passing accuracy.
One interesting aspect of that four-man competition for the number two QB spot is that, thus far, there’s been little separation between the four competitors. Along with Franklin, sophomore Corbin Berkstresser and red-shirt freshman Maty Mauk have taken the vast majority of the first and second-team snaps. But the true freshmen, early enrollees Trent Hosick and Eddie Printz, have each also made positive impressions. We’ll continue to have an eye on this competition throughout the rest of the spring.
At the TB position, sophomore Russell Hansbrough has impressed, and appears to me to have overtaken Marcus Murphy for the top spot. Henry Josey has looked good, as he’s gotten back onto the field after a year-and-a-half on the sideline. Based on early observations, I suspect that we’ll eventually see Hansbrough and Josey at the top of the depth chart. RSF Morgan Steward is an unmistakable talent who is forcing his way into the mix, as well.
Coach Pat Washington is familiarizing himself with his receivers, and this position group has looked strong this spring. While the top six receivers are readily apparent, it’s not clear at this point who will emerge from the spring as the starters. There’s little separation between the first and second-team wide receivers, and those starting positions may not be determined until the fall.
One of the major developments thus far this spring is the move of Evan Boehm from guard to center, where he appears to be the clear-cut leader for the starting job. He has work to do in improving the consistency of his snaps, but it appears to me to be a good move in the direction of dramatically improving Missouri’s offensive line. The secondary early development up front is the emergence of the young offensive tackles, Mitch Morse, Anthony Gatti, and Chris Freeman, and the impending return from injury of “two of (Missouri’s) top three tackles”, Taylor Chappell and Justin Britt, which will likely result in the move of one or more tackles inside to guard.
Another major development of the early spring is the quality performance of several of Missouri’s defensive linemen, most notably defensive ends Kony Ealy and Shane Ray, and red-shirt freshman defensive tackle Harold Brantley. Missouri appears to be particularly strong at defensive end, and with Brantley’s continued development, the Tigers appear to have some interior talent, as well.
Senior LB Andrew Wilson is at home in the middle, and there’s quality competition for the outside spots. With red-shirt freshmen LBs, Torey Boozer, Michael Scherer, and Donavin Newsom, the Tigers have quality depth to elevate the competition.
In the secondary, the competition for the second starting corner and second starting safety positions is heating up, and will merit close conservation throughout the spring. Ian Simon was off to a good start before he sprained an ankle, and John Gibson has impressed with the level of his talent.
Early this spring, Missouri’s special teams appear to be well-positioned, with placekicker Andrew Baggett, punter Christian Brinser, long-snapper Jake Hurrell, and return man Marcus Murphy.
From early observations, it appears that Missouri will undergo some changes in their offensive scheme. With a pair of quality tight ends, especially red-shirt freshman Sean Culkin, I think we’ll see Missouri utilize the tight end more than a year ago. And, it seems likely that the tight end will be utilized in a variety of ways, including somewhat more conventionally.
I haven’t seen schematic changes in Missouri’s defensive scheme, although the depth and quality of the Tigers’ defensive ends allows for some flexibility.