Spring football Q&A

For those packing their three canned goods for the Black and Gold Game, we answer questions on the progress of Brad Smith and the defensive line.

What's been going on with Brad Smith?

Again and again, we hear that Brad Smith has the arm to be a professional quarterback.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel maintains that Smith is far, far away from his potential, and that Smith can develop a passing game to complement his obvious running skills.

Sorry Gary, but we haven't seen the proof.

As the Tigers prepare for the Black and Gold Game at 2 p.m. Saturday, the same questions that have swirled around Smith since his breakout freshman year remain. Saturday will be Smith's last chance to answer them before summer.

So far, though, Smith hasn't shown in practice or in the scrimmages that his passing game has seen any kind of considerable improvement. He continues to throw over and behind receivers. The best thing to say about the receivers is how well they have caught many of these passes.

A bigger problem, one that won't likely improve with an inexperienced offensive line, is Smith's patience. He has never been too willing to stay in the pocket and let a play develop. This results in many of the little 2-yard running throws to the tight end that he thrown so many times in the past two years.

Then again, this problem could be simply symptomatic of Smith's largest flaw, making reads. Smith hasn't been able to find an open receiver quickly in his two years. What this does is either give time for the defense to get on a man, or it takes away the yards after catch, something Missouri receivers have not been good at since Smith took over.

Is Brad Smith an amazing talent? Yes, and I think many coaches would gladly take his 2,000-yard passing, 1,000-yard rushing seasons for four years. But if this offense wants to get any better, it will ultimately rely on Smith's ability to stay healthy and develop a healthy passing game.

Are you more concerned or optimistic about the defensive line

Um, yes. There's definitely concern, and there's definitely optimism. The concern is with the depth at defensive tackle. After Atiyyah Ellison and C.J. Mosley, there is little left outside of the Phil Pitts of the team. How long can Ellison and Mosley go without rotating? That could determine how successful this team can stop a dominant runner such as Darren Sproles or Cedric Benson.

At defensive end, there is definitely optimism about the depth that Xzavie Jackson has brought to the team. As Pinkel said Monday, Jackson is "really good." With Jackson and Ville on the ends, it means Brian Smith, who had nine sacks last season, will actually come off the sideline for passing situations.

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