Now that spring football for the Missouri Tigers is in the rear view mirror, ShowMeMizzou will examine what we saw, and how things look heading into the summer. Individual position reviews will follow.
In 2009, the Missouri Tigers were one of the youngest teams in all of college football, and heading into this spring, the Tigers are still a fairly young team. This spring, the development of young players was a theme that resonated throughout the roster.
Another characteristic of this team that became even more evident this spring is the overall team speed. No where on the roster is the combination of youth and speed more evident than at the receiver positions. Five different receivers were reported to have posted sub 4.5 second forty-yard dash times during the pre-spring testing.
The continued development of a corps of talented young receivers is a critical element of this spring's accomplishments, one that lends promise to the outlook for this upcoming season. It's unlikely that the Tigers will enter the 2010 season with any seniors listed on the two-deep at the receiver positions.
Early in the spring, TE Michael Egnew and five WRs separated themselves from the competition for pass-catching consideration. Those five included returning starters Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp, and the relatively inexperienced trio of Rolandis Woodland, T.J. Moe, and L'Damian Washington. Beau Brinkley and Eric Waters asserted themselves behind Egnew at TE. Brinkley is a consistent receiver, and Waters showed flashes of tremendous playmaking ability to go along with his speed and athleticism. Later in the spring, Jaleel Clark moved ahead of Gahn McGaffie onto the second unit, and Kerwin Stricker began to show some of what he can do with his immense talent. TE Andrew Jones spent the spring on the mend, and will re-enter the picture at that position this fall.
Coach Pinkel seems to have the expectation that one or more of the incoming freshmen WRs will impact the playing rotation this fall, with the unspoken suggestion that one or more of them will challenge for playing time this year.
All three of the returning QBs looked better this spring than they did last year, and each of the two new freshmen QBs made significant improvement throughout the spring.
Blaine Gabbert looked physically superior this spring to what I have seen from him before. He appeared leaner and faster, and by all reports, is stronger than he's ever been. He also seemed much more comfortable in all aspects, and more mature. He's made noticeable progress in his decision-making and accuracy with the football. It looks like he's having fun.
Despite Coach Pinkel's constant reminders that the competition for the back-up QB position won't be over until late August, I think the bigger question at the QB position heading into fall camp is just how many scholarship QBs will still be on the roster?
James Franklin quickly ascended the depth chart during the spring, and seems to have positioned himself as this year's back-up and as Blaine Gabbert's heir-apparent.
Derrick Washington looked the best this spring I've ever seen him. He set the bar high at the TB position, and appears to be poised for a great senior season. De'Vion Moore looked real good during the second half of the spring, once he had returned from injury. And, Kendial Lawrence gives the Tigers a third quality TB heading into the fall.
One of the more significant developments of the spring was the steadily improved play of some of the young offensive linemen. I've heard Missouri coaches describe their intent along the offensive line to identify the five best offensive linemen, and then the sixth, and the seventh, etc. If everyone stays healthy heading into the season, the coaches intent is to identify the third tackle, the third guard, and the back-up center. These first back-ups could be the same guy, or they could be two or three different guys. If someone becomes injured, they'd still like to put their next best five players out there as starters.
The Tigers apear to be set at three spots along the starting offensive line as they head into the summer. Tim Barnes at center, and Elvis Fisher and Dan Hoch at the two tackle positions are talented, and experienced. The returning starter at left guard, Austin Wuebbels, was injured for much of the spring, and played in the Spring Game at less than 100%. I would say that at the conclusion of spring ball, that he is still considered to be one of Missouri's top five OLs. Because Wuebbels was out for much of the spring, and because Fisher missed the entire spring, as many as four players spent time during the spring auditioning for a starting role along the offensive line.
Justin Britt spent much of the spring as the starting left guard, and also played with the first unit at right guard. He needs to get stronger, especially in his upper body, but it appears that he finished the spring as one of Missouri's top five offensive linemen. Jack Meiners spent the entire spring at the starting left tackle spot, in Fisher's absence from the line-up. He made steady improvement, and has thrown his hat squarely into the ring to challenge for a starting spot somewhere along the offensive line this season. Jayson Palmgren and Travis Ruth each spent time during the spring working as the starting right guard, Palmgren more than anyone else. Each of them are also squarely in the mix for a starting spot this fall.
Mark Hill made a very positive impression this spring as a developmental offensive tackle. Justin Britt was named most improved offensive lineman, but Hill was surely under consideration. He still has lots of work to do, and room for improvement, but showed plenty of promise this spring.
Coach Pinkel spoke of Justin Britt in superlatives, calling him "one of the best young offensive linemen I've ever been around." And, he indicated that both Meiners and Britt will "play a lot" this season.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers displayed tremendous speed during the spring, especially in the back seven, where the Tigers are as experienced and have as much quality depth as anywhere on the team.
The Tigers returned six of the seven starters in the back seven from a year ago, and there was plenty of competition for starting spots, as well as for spots on the two-deep. Jasper Simmons held onto one starting safety spot throughout the spring. He appeared to make noticeable improvement throughout the spring. But, it was actually a couple of younger safeties who were the most improved. Matt White ascended the depth chart throughout the spring, and at the conclusion of spring ball, the athletic and intelligent RSF had ball-hawked his way into the starting line-up.
Another RSF, Tavon Bolden, who has already gained a reputation among his teammates as a big hitter, used the second half of spring ball to elevate himself to the second-string. After taking over the starting position during the early portion of the spring, Kenji Jackson finished up spring ball working with the second unit. Jackson is the most experienced of Missouri's
safeties, and spent the spring providing leadership, intelligence, and toughness.
Newcomer Kenronte Walker spent the first half of spring ball becoming acclimated to his surroundings, and to Missouri's system, then began to challenge the two-deep toward the end of spring ball. Jarrell Harrison fell from atop the depth chart, at least partly due to some off-the-field "personal" issues, which have reportedly been resolved.
Spring ball saw the development of a third starting CB, Kip Edwards, who is listed as the co-starter with Carl Gettis, opposite Kevin Rutland at the other corner. These three form the core of the Tigers' nickel package, which includes the two starting safeties and LBs Andrew Gachkar and Zaviar Gooden. Edwards received the most improved award at corner on the spring. Munir Prince utilized the off-season and spring ball to move onto the two-deep, and became one of the big hitters of the spring. Trey Hobson and Robert Steeples are experienced CBs who continued to improve throughout the spring, as well. All of the CBs adapted quickly to the more aggressive style of coverage being employed this spring. To a man, they seem to prefer this new approach, and in addition, it appeared to be producing immediate results with more pass-break-ups and interceptions.
Spring ball confirmed and highlighted what many of us expected about Missouri's LBs. This is about as deep and as experienced of a position group as the Tigers have. Will Ebner and Luke Lambert jockeyed back and forth for the starting MLB spot, flanked by the speedy Gooden and Gachkar, each of whom were pretty sensational throughout the spring. One day after practice, Coach Pinkel referred to Gooden as "a bullet out there".
It doesn't end there. Lambert and Gachkar's experience and versatility provides considerable depth at multiple linebacker positions. In addition, Donovan Bonner showed this spring that he's ready to be a big-time play maker. Andrew Wilson and Josh Tatum each made tremendous improvement this spring, and jockeyed back and forth for a spot on the two-deep. Special teams will benefit from all the quality LBs and DBs on the roster, and that's not even including several more due to arrive in June.
Aldon Smith headlines another position of quality depth for the Tigers. The sophomore DE spent the spring showing off new pass rush moves and an improved body, and provided nightmares for some of the young offensive linemen. Brad Madison was selected as the most improved of a rapidly improving group of DEs. His progress earned him some time with the starting unit, where he provided increasing relief for the starter, Jacquies Smith. Marcus Malbrough and Michael Sam demonstrated throughout the spring that they are both Big 12 ready players, and Brayden Burnett spent the spring terrorizing Tyler Gabbert and the other back-ups QBs.
Spring ball provided a great opportunity for several DTs to establish themselves in the competition for playing time. Both starting DTs, Dominique Hamilton and Terrell Resonno, each spent time wearing red jerseys early in the spring, which allowed their back-ups to audition for spots on the two-deep. Jimmy Burge and Brendan Donaldson showed up for spring ball with newly developed strength and athleticism, hard-earned during winter conditioning, and emerged from the spring as the second string DTs. Bart Coslet has established himself as a leader on this team, and played impressively throughout the spring. George White had his moments, as well. RSF Marvin Foster missed all of spring ball with an injury. He is expected to challenge for playing time this fall.
Coach Pinkel expressed "concern" about the back-up DT situation, but is all smiles when it comes to discussing the place kicker position, where record-setter Grant Ressel returns.