While waiting for the Missouri Tigers to resume spring practices, we'll take a look at what we've learned during the first half of spring football.
Since the defense has out shown the offense during the first half of the spring, we'll start on that side of the ball.
The Tigers return some experience at the CB position, and seniors Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland have retained their hold on the starting positions. Rutland has been one of the stars of the early spring. Gettis is being challenged by sophomore Kip Edwards, whom CB coach Cornell Ford referred to as a "co-starter". On the other side, since the beginning of spring ball, senior Munir Prince has moved even with, or slightly ahead of, junior Trey Hobson.
The Tigers began the spring with returning starters Jasper Simmons and Jarrell Harrison, both seniors with a season of experience under their belts, atop the depth chart at the safety positions. It's no big surprise that junior Kenji Jackson has moved back ahead of Harrison at the SS position. Jackson has starting experience, and is a smart and tough competitor. That's a close competition that will likely continue through out the fall. When RSF Tavon Bolden returns from injury, and junior Kenronte Walker becomes more acclimated to the system and level of competition, look for one of the strong safeties to be moved over to free safety position, where RSF Matt White has played very well, and currently occupies the #2 spot. The 180-pound White plays a lot bigger, and is always around the ball. He'll hit you, too.
In a recent interview, senior LB Luke Lambert talked about the talent-level around him, saying that the Tigers have more talent at LB than he's seen during his time at Missouri. Considering that the departed Sean Weatherspoon is slated for first-round selection in this month's NFL draft, that's quite a statement. For what it's worth, I concur with Lambert's assessment. The Tigers are so talented that Lambert, a one-and-a-half year starter, can't get back into the starting line-up. Lambert is currently backing up junior MLB Will Ebner, who has been all over the field, and is flanked by senior Andrew Gachkar and sophomore Zaviar Gooden, whom Coach Pinkel described as "just a bullet out there".
Sophomore Donovan Bonner has looked real good, and has retained the #2 spot behind Gachkar. Junior Josh Tatum recently switched from WLB to SLB, and is now splitting reps with RSF Andrew Wilson on the second unit. There's talent further down the depthchart at the LB position, as well, but these seven will likely populate the two-deep heading into the 2010 season.
Another positive out of this position group is their flexibility, as most can play, and some have played, multiple positions within the LB scheme.
Getting the starting DTs, juniors Dominique Hamilton and Terrell Resonno, back on the field before the break was a real positive for the Tigers. They should both be at full speed by the time practices resume.
Their time on the sideline created opportunities for some of the back-ups to get some quality reps, and some of them have helped themselves. Jimmy Burge and Brendan Donaldson are currently running #3 and #4 respectively, at the DT position. These two are among those who have really worked hard in the weight room, and it's clearly paying off for them on the field. The third-stringers are Bart Coslet and George White. The undersized Coslet has really played well this spring, and White has had his moments. Marvin Foster was set to begin the spring on the two-deep when he injured himself in the weight room. He's supposed to be ready to return by the summer.
DE might be the deepest position on the team, with third-stringers, Brayden Burnett and Michael Sam, who appear to be good enough to play, stuck behind second-stringers Brad Madison and Marcus Malbrough, who were good enough to play some last year, and have continued to improve. Madison seems to be the one that's closest to being a starter, and has been getting some reps with the first unit, filling in for returning starter Jacquies Smith. Aldon Smith has improved physically, and has been showing improved technique, especially in rushing the passer.
Punter Matt Grabner has looked good during the spring. Trey Barrow has been punting and doing placekicks. He hasn't shown the leg strength to challenge for either spot, although he's been pretty accurate on his FGAs. If anyone knows of a punter looking for work, there's a vacancy at Missouri after 2010.
Pat Smith is a promising kicker as Grant Ressel's back-up. Ressel's kick-offs are still too short, but he is kicking the ball a little deeper than last year.
On kick-off returns, again there have not been many live returns during the spring. I haven't seen Jeremy Maclin.
The competition for the back-up QB position has lived up to expectations, and has provided plenty to watch, and discuss. James Franklin appears to be headed for the #2 QB position come August, He's already moved ahead of Ashton Glaser, to Ashton's dismay, and in the opinion of many, is already outperforming Jimmy Costello. The only thing keeping Costello in that spot for now is his superior familiarity with the system.
I'm going to be watching the Glaser-Tyler Gabbert-Costello battle, to see who's going to end up where on the depth chart. I'm particularly interested to see what transpires with Glaser, whom I think has looked a lot better this spring, and is just a terrific young man.
Blaine Gabbert showed up for spring ball in terrific shape, and has looked faster, and more sure of himself. He's developing a nice rapport with the first and second string receivers.
Speaking of looking faster, that describes what I've seen from Derrick Washington so far this spring. I don't think he's ever looked better. If he can stay healthy, I expect a big year from DWash in his swan song season.
De'Vion Moore should be back on full go following the break, after having sat out contact drills during the first half of the spring.
Kendial Lawrence has been getting reps with the starters in Moore's absence, and it will be interesting to see if that continues.
Michael Egnew has taken to the TE position this spring like a duck to water. He gives Blaine a big target, is consistent catching the ball, and is ready to do something with it when he gets it. He always been a very good blocker. Eric Waters has been pretty consistent catching the ball, and possesses athleticism that many of the other TEs lack. He'll need to get in the weight room, but coming in early could pay off for him come fall. He's already moved up twice, and we could see him make another move this spring. Andrew Jones will return in time for fall camp, Beau Brinkley has been steady as Egnew's back-up, and Alex Sanders is searching to regain the speed and athleticism he displayed in high school, prior to his knee injury.
There are five WRs who have separated themselves from the pack, and one of them, Jerrell Jackson, stands out as Missouri's top play maker. He has looked faster this spring, is real consistent catching the ball, and just seems to exude confidence. He's looking like a star.
He's joined for now, on the starting unit, by Wes Kemp and Rolandis Woodland. Both have been more consistent catching the football, but still have too many drops. In this offense, any is too many. T.J. Moe and L'Damian Washington have each maximized their opportunities this spring and have emerged as potential go to guys. In a recent interview, QB Ashton Glaser talked about Moe and Washington, saying that they just catch everything, and are real play makers who can really make things happen once they get the ball in their hands.
McGaffie has moved up on the depth chart for now, and has displayed more consistency and play making ability this spring, but he just lacks the size, speed, and strength of the top five WR's. Kerwin Stricker missed some more time this spring with an injury, and while he shows flashes of great explosiveness, he has lacked the consistency needed. Pretty much the same can be said for Jaleel Clark, who like Stricker, appears to need more time to develop into a front line play maker.
The offensive line was going to be just a little thin this spring, while the team awaits the arrival of three highly regarded signees. Then injuries subtracted two of the returning starters, junior LT Elvis Fisher and then junior LG Austin Wuebbels.
Wuebbels might get back in after the break. We'll see. Sophomore Jack Meiners moved into Fisher's LT spot, and then RSF Justin Britt moved up to starting LG. The early spring has represented a transition period for these two, but they've continued to make progress, and have been working hard. Just before the break, sophomore Travis Ruth moved up and over from back-up center to to starting RG. Returning starters, senior C Tim Barnes and junior RT Dan Hoch, have performed well, and help to solidify the first unit up front.
The injuries have really taken their toll on the second and third units, as third teamers have had to move up, and this is where the lack of depth begins to show along the offensive line. Just about everyone on this second-string offensive line can play, and have done some good things, but as a group, they're just inconsistent enough to, at times, make life a little difficult for QBs, RBs, and receivers playing with them. The third-team offensive line is short on talent, and generally over matched, almost man for man. The result is something along the lines of: Tyler Gabbert, meet Brayden Burnett. He's the guys who's been draped all over you all spring.
Before anyone begins to panic, keep in mind that Missouri will add 5 OLs to the mix between now and fall camp, the two injured guys and the three freshmen. That's an entire unit, so that pretty much every offensive lineman currently working with the #3 offense this spring will probably find themselves further down the depth chart come fall camp.
The positive from this situation is the future pay-off of the valuable experience with the first unit gained by Meiners and Britt, and the opportunity to work with the second unit, which has been seized upon by guys like RSF Mark Hill, sophomore Mike Cecero, and RSF Shawn Carey.