InsideMizzou Camp Breakdown: Personnel

Illinois week has arrived at long last after a seemingly never-ending summer of anticipation. There has been plenty of talk about the big game this weekend in St. Louis, but we'll have time to break down the Illini later this week. First, we'll take a look at the fall camp that was, and give some of our observations about the most pressing issues and interesting developments that have taken place.

Tight ends better than ever

Everyone knows how good Mizzou's offense was last year, during which the Tigers attack ended ranked eighth in the nation. The question heading into camp was whether or not it would be possible for MU's offense to be even better this year. The answer: a resounding ‘yes.'

Still, like any coach who's been around the track a few times, Gary Pinkel continued to temper expectations as camp wound down, saying there were several things that needed to be addressed.

"I thought we looked pretty good out here today," Chase Daniel said after the scrimmage last weekend, "but if he says something's wrong, we've gotta fix it."

The most impressive thing about MU's offense is there really doesn't seem to be a weakness. We couldn't help but marvel at how good tight ends Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman look. This, of course, is no surprise – the two have been rated the nation's top tight end duo – but they're better than ever, and it's difficult to imagine how even the stoutest defenses will keep the two off the scoreboard.

Rucker may be the most physically impressive athlete on the team. He's in tip-top shape physically and can do a bit of everything; we'll keep our mouths shut on exactly what we saw, but suffice it to say ‘T-Ruck' will be running a few plays that usually don't involve tight ends.

Coffman, meantime, looks to be bigger than ever as well, and is catching everything in sight. It's difficult to recall a single time during practice or scrimmages when he was brought down by less than two or three tacklers. It's akin to one of those wildlife TV shows, when it requires an entire pack of small predators to bring down a water buffalo … Goofy analogy, I know, but it's true. Coffman, though perhaps not the thoroughbred athlete Rucker is, is a tank.

Rucker also continues to develop as an outstanding leader on and off the field.

"He's like a team mom," running back Tont Temple joked. "He makes sure everyone is taken care of."

How good is Mizzou's wide receiver corps?

The answer: the sky's the limit.

It was difficult not to marvel at sophomore Danario Alexander. Though MU has a deep pool of wideouts with playmaking potential, Alexander is the guy who draws your eye first, as well as the one upon whom the NFL scouts will be keeping closest tabs. His combination of size, speed and athleticism is a rare commodity. He made plays all throughout camp, proving the flashes of brilliance he showed as a freshman were the real thing and becoming the guy fans talked about most as the breakout player for Missouri in 2008.

But you can't focus too much on Alexander, because the group is an embarrassment of riches. Everyone knows that senior Will Franklin is a proven producer on the field, but what about Jared Perry, Tommy Saunders, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Ray and Greg Bracey?

Saunders isn't the tallest guy in the world, but we never caught him taking a moment off, even when it came to his post-practice push-up sessions. The guy does not have a gram of fat on him. You don't make it from walk-on to No. 1 on the depth chart at ‘Z' receiver without working incessantly.

And then there's Maclin, who by all accounts is back to the form that made him a prized recruit in 2006, before he suffered a knee injury that cost him his freshman season. Maclin caught a screen pass and weaved in and out of defenders for a highlight reel-quality 25-yard catch and run to the endzone in the scrimmage last week, prompting a fan in the stands to joke aloud: "Who's that guy?"

"It felt good. I hadn't been there in a while," said Maclin, perhaps Mizzou's best big-play threat when he gets the ball in space.

"I feel in the zone every time I get the ball in my hands," he said, adding that he is undoubtedly back to his pre-injury form.

And then, of course, there is junior quarterback Chase Daniel. There's not much we need to say here about him that hasn't already been said. He looked sharp throughout camp, was doing his usual cheerleading and is poised for an enormous season.

"I think that [the game] has slowed down a lot. The more it slows down, the more comfortable you are. That also means there are more plays to be made. My job this year is to definitely get the ball to those eight receivers and sit back and tell them that they did a great job," he said.

Defensive backfield in motion

There was good news Monday in the form of Pinkel's announcement that standout cornerback Hardy Ricks has healed and is ready to start in the season opener. Ricks dislocated his shoulder August 7 and missed most of camp, but Pinkel said he's been cleared to go, and he's now listed as a starter on the depth chart.

His return relegates quickly-rising true freshman Carl Gettis to second string. Gettis was the surprise of camp, showing not only excellent cover skills, but also looking mature beyond his years. His work with the first team will only add depth to the secondary. Darnell Terrell, the starter at the other spot, looked good during camp as well, as did second-stronger Paul Simpson.

Safety Pig Brown said of Terrell: "He's very valuable to our team. He's one of the best corners in the Big 12. When you have a guy like that on your team, it takes a lot of pressure off. He's about 6-3 and 210 pounds, which is NFL size, so he's way above the standard."

Another player who caught our eye throughout camp was true frosh Trey Hobson. He always seemed to be near the ball, making plays. Pinkel declined to say whether he could play this year, but did say he expects big things out of Hobson during his MU career.

"He's a very fiery, competitive guy. He was like that in high school," Pinkel said.

Another true freshman, safety Gilbert Moye, took some heat from fans and media early in camp, but what they failed to consider is that Moye was changing to a new position and adjusting to college football at once. That's a heavy load, and we figured all along he'd see the field this year. Moye is a phenomenal athlete with good size, and he was not signed by the staff to be brought along slowly. He'll provide depth in case of injury and it would not be surprising to see him make some big plays on special teams.

The starting safeties are Pig Brown and William Moore. Brown is a steady performer and one of the team's leaders. As for Moore, Pinkel seemed to be wanting more of an impact from him during camp and stated that Moore was the starter at free safety "right now." Del Howard has adjusted quickly to a new position and could push for playing time there. It's a position to keep an eye on.

Temple of Doom

Many Missouri hearts skipped a beat Aug. 7 when Temple went down in a heap after a seemingly harmless collision. He missed a week with a knee bruise, but came back strong. Coaches and teammates recently said they'd never seen Temple look better than he does right now. So perhaps the injury was a blessing in disguise, keeping him fresh and focused on staying well.

Pinkel said repeatedly he'd like Temple to hit the whole a bit harder and cut down on his dancing, but also acknowledged that his star running back does have great quickness for his size, so his propensity to try the shake and bake is somewhat understandable.

Meantime, there remains a cluster of running backs behind Temple, led by Marcus Woods and Jimmy Jackson. Woods is back from the high ankle sprain of two weeks ago, but it's been something that has hampered him in past years, and it would seem unlikely not to flare up again should he get some touches.

That could make Jackson the most important back-up on the offense. Freshman Derrick Washington had an excellent camp as well, and while Pinkel is coy about his plans for Washington, we'd be surprised if he doesn't get some touches this year, especially if injuries occur. He has a combination of size, speed, pass-catching and blocking ability that makes him a commodity on a roster of smaller backs. Plus, he has a good shot of being the starter next year, and Pinkel knows it would behoove he and Washington to get the promising runner some real experience.

We also love the quick feet and explosiveness of true freshman DeVion Moore, though he is smallish and far les likely to play this year.

Here's the Kicker

Missouri already knew what it had at place kicker after Jeff Wolfert nailed 18 of 20 field goals and all 45 of his extra point tires last year. But the staff wasn't so sure about the punter spot, where Adam Crossett averaged 39.4 yards per boot last year, so they brought in juco Jake Harry to challenge senior Crossett. But the positional battle never got started, as Crossett was impressive throughout camp and has a stronghold on the job.

Elsewhere on special teams, Maclin is listed as the No. 1 kick and punt returner, while Saunders and Temple are second in line. We like MU's playmaking potential here, and it's also a sign the staff truly feels Maclin has shed any after-effects of the injury. He has no lack of confidence, that is apparent – and good.

Stay Tuned…

We'll have plenty more coverage of the team and the upcoming game against Illinois all week leading into the season opener, and will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Illini game Saturday …

Black & Gold Illustrated Top Stories