Mizzou has just finished up one of the most interesting off-seasons in recent memory because of all the talent they have lost. While most people remain skeptical about these young players producing right away for the Tigers, they keep working hard in every practice and have looked better than expected. What can you expect from each position this season?
The era of Chase Daniel ended after last season, so the Tigers were forced to find his replacement in spring and summer ball. The competition was said to be open, but it was obvious from the start that sophomore Blaine Gabbert was heads and shoulders above everyone else. The former 5-star recruit enters this season after having a great summer, completing 78% of his passes in the 3 scrimmages held this August. Because he has been the first string QB throughout the off-season, Gabbert has gotten a chance to develop chemistry with some of the top targets for the Tigers. This was most obvious in the final practices of the summer when Gabbert and recievers Danario Alexander, Wes Kemp and Andrew Jones all looked to be on the same page. Skepticism follows this position because of Gabbert's inexperience, but the talent is there for him to be successful this year. Sure you will see some mistakes, but I believe fans will be pleasantly surprised with Gabbert's production this season.
If Gabbert went down with an injury at any point this season, sophomore Jimmy Costello would get the call as his replacement. The former walk-on has impressed coaches with his intelligence and fast learning ability, but he was never really close to challenging Gabbert for the starting job in the off-season. While he isn't horrible, Costello starting would definitely take this offense back a couple of steps. The true freshman of this group is dual-threat QB Ashton Glaser. He wasn't a 4-star recruit, but expectations for Glaser were pretty high coming into spring football. He never really stood out during practices, but he definitely has talent so he has room to grow. Blaine Dalton was kicked off the team because of persistent off the field issues. That's all I'll say about that.
The most solid part of the Mizzou offense is without question running back. Returning to start is junior Derrick Washington, a year after rushing for over 1,000 yards while battling through injuries the whole season. After healing up during the off-season, Washington is looking to break through as one of the top running backs in the country this season. The offense will no doubt favor the run more than they have in previous years because of the lack of experience in the passing game, so it is good that the Tigers have a great back like Washington to carry the load.
When Washington needs a break or when Pinkel thinks that the team needs a change of pace, De'Vion Moore will get the call. After being one of the most impressive players in spring practices, Moore continued to impress during August practices as he locked down the #2 RB spot. The sophomore back will introduce a dash of speed and elusiveness to the offense that will keep defenses on its toes. Watch out for Moore to be a surprise impact player on offense this year. Another back that could provide the same thing is Kendial Lawrence. The freshman from Texas avoided a redshirt by showcasing his great running skills and speed as soon as he stepped on campus in early August. Gilbert Moye switched over from safety this year and has slowly refined his rushing skills to be listed 4th on the depth chart. His size could make him an option near the goal line for the Tigers.
Wide Receiver/Tight End:
The targets for Blaine Gabbert include an interesting mix of experience and fresh blood. Senior Danario Alexander has separated himself from the pack after missing all of spring practice to become the #1 target in 2009. We caught a glimpse of his great size (6-5), jumping ability and hands in his sophomore season, but he disappointed last season after battling through injuries. He will be back at full strength this year and should be more than ready to catch 75 passes this season as a #1 target. Other starters include sophomore Wes Kemp and senior Jered Perry. Kemp got limited playing time last season, but distanced himself from others in the off-season because of his mix of his imposing size and his ability to stretch the field, Perry also battled injuries this spring, but will be back at full strength against Illinois and will provide a ton of speed for Gabbert to work with.
Another target that could see some considerable playing time this year is sophomore Jerrell Jackson. The 6-1 speedster was battling Kemp for a starting job this year, but he will still play a crucial role by being one of the top slot recievers on the team. Brandon Gerau earned a scholarship at WR this off-season by being a hard worker and having reliable hands. He could get some playing time this year after starting while Perry and Alexander were out with injuries in the spring. Starting at tight end after losing 1st team All-American Chase Coffman will be sophomore Andrew Jones. The Peculiar, MO product got some playing time during Coffman's injury struggles and showed flashes of what we can expect this season. He is a huge target and should be a great safety valve over the middle just like Coffman was in his four years at Mizzou.
Probably the most encouraging aspect of the Tigers is the offensive line. The Tigers return three starters and the two new guys have been some of the most impressive on the line in the off-season. Elvis Fisher will start at left tackle again, a year after snatching the job as a freshman. He showed flashes of dominance, so if he can get more consistent, he could be a force for the next three seasons. Austin Wuebbles won the left guard battle this year and he should be solid there, but he is definitely the shakiest part of the line. The experienced center for the Tigers is Tim Barnes. The 6-4 junior mauled during practices and will be an absolute rock in the middle of the line. Captain Kurtis Gregory will start at left guard for the third straight year and will end up being the most reliable part of the line. His leadership on the line will be irreplaceable. Finally, 6-7 sophomore Dan Hoch will get the call at right tackle. Even though he doesn't have any starting experience, his size alone should make him a pretty good player. The plus with Hoch is that he has some great athleticism to go along with the size, so he should be a well rounded player.
Surprisingly, Grant Ressel stole the starting kicking job away from Tanner Mills after a camp-long battle. This position will be a severe weakness for the Tigers this year after losing the incredible Jeff Wolfert to graduation. Neither one of the kickers separated themselves from the other this off-season, which is news that Tiger fans probably don't want to hear. The offense could be strained to do more than it has in the past because of the lack of trust in the kicking game. Don't expect too much from Ressel this year outside of 40 yards.
Obviously the Tigers have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball. The great offensive line will do this unit wonders, even if the position players don't perform as well as I believe they will. Nevertheless, the young guns will struggle a bit because of inexperience, but it will be how they respond to these struggles that will define their level of success this year.
Defensive preview coming soon.