Perhaps the biggest shoes to fill on the Missouri football team will be those of 3-year starter and former Heisman Trophy candidate Chase Daniel. Sophomore Blaine Gabbert, a former 5-star recruit, will probably be the one to take Daniel's place in 2009. Let's see the numbers that Gabbert will have to live up to in the coming years.
Chase Daniel 2006: 287/452 (63.5%) for 3527 yards, 28 TD's and 10 INT's
Chase Daniel in 2007: 384/563 (68.2%) for 4306 yards, 33 TD's and 11 INT's
Chase Daniel in 2008: 385/528 (72.9%) for 4335 yards, 39 TD's and 18 INT's
Those numbers are staggering. Daniel had some of the best quarterback numbers in the country in those 3 years so replacing them will be a tough task.
Gabbert entered the spring of 2009 knowing that he was the frontrunner to replace Daniel at quarterback. Coming off some fairly disappointing mop-up playing time in 2008 (5/13 for 43 yards), Gabbert committed himself to being prepared for a starting position in 2009. His 5-star talent will take him a long way this year, but he still must avoid costly interceptions that could cripple offensive production. For example, the sophomore quarterback threw a questionable interception to Kip Edwards in the first quarter of the spring game which stopped a drive that was nearing the red zone. If the Tigers want a high flying offense, Gabbert must be smart with the football.
Even with some mental errors, the Parkway West product was one of the most impressive players in spring practice this year which definitely has brought some encouragement to a fan base feeling uneasy about the team's chances in 2009. Daniel was one of the best players to ever put on a Missouri jersey because he fit extremely well into the spread offense that the Tigers have used since Brad Smith was the signal caller. Gabbert, on the other hand, is more of a pro-style quarterback that can throw to receivers running mid to deep routes. It will be interesting to see how new offensive coordinator Dave Yost alters the playbook to fit Gabbert's playing style. I believe that the Tigers will still mainly run a spread offense, but you could tell in spring practice that this year they will be looking to have their receivers run before the catch more this season rather than having them catch the ball then weave their way through defenses.
Gabbert can also work well outside of the pocket and can even take the ball down and run for a few yards. It was reported this spring by one of his teammates (can't remember who it was) that he ran a sub-4.5 40-yard dash in the offseason, an incredible number for a pocket QB. His mobility will bring an added dimension to the offense that Chase Daniel could not bring. Sure, Daniel could escape the rush a little bit, but Gabbert will end up having better pocket awareness than Daniel because of his height, speed and natural instincts.
Daniel was astoundingly effective in his 3 years as Missouri's starting QB, shattering all kinds of school records in the process. He will no doubt be missed this year in Columbia, but I expect that Gabbert will provide a smooth transition by performing at a high level. He will make throws that Chase Daniel could not even dream of making, but he will also make mistakes that will make Missouri fans ask themselves ‘why is this guy the starter?' Can Mizzou fans live with that in 2009? With that said, I think before it is all said and done, Gabbert will be very successful because he has shown the ability this year to improve immensely in a short amount of time.