The Missouri Tigers wrapped up their fall camp with their final scrimmage on Thursday. The scrimmage opened under the cloud of the just-released news of senior co-captain and starting TB Derrick Washington's indefinite suspension, and ended abruptly with the frightening injury to senior CB Munir Prince.
At this writing, it appears that Prince will be okay. Washington will be okay too, but it's unclear when or if he'll play football for Missouri this year.
The lights come on this Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome, so it's time to look at what we learned about the Tigers during fall camp.
When camp opened more than three weeks ago, the first impression rendered was of the outstanding talent level of the freshmen class. We had already been wowed by QB James Franklin during the spring, and in the first few days of fall camp, it was WR Jimmie Hunt's turn to show off his amazing ability. Alas, Hunt was injured during the team's first scrimmage, and missed the rest of camp. Coach Pinkel announced near the end of camp that Hunt, who had just arrived on campus a couple of days before fall camp started, had missed too much valuable time, and would likely red-shirt this year. It was at that same time that Coach Pinkel acknowledged that Hunt "is going to be a great player" at Missouri.
Early in camp, it became evident that Missouri's offensive line is vastly improved. Following the first scrimmage, junior Jayson Palmgren moved back ahead of RSF Justin Britt at the starting left guard spot, leaving the Tigers with a third starting quality guard in the versatile Britt, who can play tackle or guard, and may end up next year as the starting center.
As camp moved along, sophomore back-up tackle Jack Meiners, and sophomore back-up center Travis Ruth each made dramatic improvements, and solidified their status as primary back-ups, along with solidifying Missouri's offensive line depth for this season. To a man, the offensive linemen have talked about finally beginning to master the new techniques they've been taught since the arrival almost a year-and-a-half ago, of Coach Henson, as co-offensive line coach, in tandem with Coach Walker. One by one this year, offensive linemen have taken hold of improved blocking technique, and reached new maturation levels, as well. The Tigers' offensive line appears to be on the verge of a great season, and is also set up for a real nice two-year run.
A final word on the development of the offensive line is that it appears that three of the true freshmen, left tackle Anthony Gatti, and right guards, Mitch Morse and Nick Demien, will probably be listed on the two-deep, and prepare to play each week, although only Morse is likely to play in games.
Starting QB Blaine Gabbert had an impressive camp, and was especially impressive in the last two scrimmages. He's completing a higher percentage of his passes, and seems just more in control of the offense. He still has a tendency to rely on his bazooka of an arm, and force one in occasionally, but he's overall vastly improved in his decision-making and reads.
Franklin's development has continued at a rapid pace, and his improvement was visible from week to week. He's an experienced manager of the game, and does a real good job of reading the defense and of leading receivers away from the defense, where they immediately become ball-carriers. He applies great touch on the shorter passes, and his accuracy on the down field throws improved each week. He also brings a dimension to the running game that is unique among Missouri's current crop of QBs. It's interesting to watch Coach Yost work with the young QBs, and to see the progress each of them are making.
At the beginning of fall camp, the TB position looked to be one of the strongest and deepest on the team. Derrick Washington looked better than I've ever seen him, and junior De'Vion Moore and sophomore Kendial Lawrence looked like starting caliber players, as well. The freshmen showed up early, as well, especially the speedy Henry Josey, and the versatile and multi-talented Marcus Murphy. Those two quickly moved up the depth chart, and continued to impress throughout camp. At the close of camp, with Moore's injury and Washington's suspension, Lawrence has become the starter, and it looks like Josey, and probably Murphy, will be called upon against Illinois. Lawrence is definitely up to the task, and I won't be surprised if either of the freshmen breaks out for a big game. Josey is explosive, and has some make-you-miss too. An excellent receiver, Murphy's fast (4.48 forty). Not as fast as Josey (4.35 forty), but I've been describing Murphy's running style as changing lanes without slowing down, or even using a turn signal.
One of the most improved players on the team this year is junior TE Michael Egnew. Egnew turned it on during the off-season and in the spring, and emerges from fall camp as one of Blaine Gabbert's go-to guys. Egnew catches almost everything, and has speed and athleticism that Missouri hasn't had at TE. He combines some of the characteristics of each of Martin Rucker and Danario Alexander, earning him the nickname Danario Rucker. Junior Andrew Jones solidified himself as the number two TE as he too, catches everything. The late-camp injury to long-snapper/TE Beau Brinkley appears to have eliminated him from playing time at the TE position for this season, but he should be able to return to handle his long-snapping duties. Brinkley's unavailability re-inserts freshman Eric Waters into the equation. Waters has shown flashes of his considerable natural ability, but has also been a little inconsistent.
The WR position has been the most unsettled throughout fall camp, as well as having drawn a great deal of attention. Sophomore T.J. Moe has continued to establish himself as one of Blaine Gabbert's go-to guys. He catches everything, and once he catches it, the play is just beginning. Junior Jerrell Jackson broke his wrist midway through camp, and had a screw inserted in it, which promises to allow him to return quickly, and play while wearing a cast. He'll be back soon, maybe for Illinois. When he gets back in there, some shuffling will probably take place, since his experience at both the H and X WR positions allows the Tigers to get Jackson and Moe on the field together.
Once the depth chart is released, we'll know more about what the WR position is going to look like. RSF L'Damian Washington had a very good camp, and moved into a starting spot at the X WR position. Sophomore Rolandis Woodland opened camp as the starter at the X, but fell behind the more consistent Washington. Woodland's improved, and is at his best running under deep throws. He'll play. So will sophomore Gahn McGaffie, who took advantage of an opportunity when he was moved inside following the injuries to Jackson, Hunt, and RSF Kerwin Stricker. McGaffie has been very consistent catching the football. Once again, Stricker missed most of camp. When he was healthy, he showed flashes of great ability, but also demonstrated inconsistency.
Freshman Marcus Lucas showed great ability throughout camp, and was still in the running at the close of camp to see the field this season. The same can be said for freshman Bud Sasser, who moved from the Z to the H WR position following the injuries to Jackson and Hunt. He worked with the number two offense for the latter half of camp, and appeared to be a lock to play this year. At this writing, I'm not sure where, or if, Sasser will play. I would like to see him back out at the Z, and lining up against Illinois.
The Z WR position is the most intriguing. Junior Wes Kemp has started more games at Missouri than any of the Tigers' wide outs. He was still listed as the starter at the close of camp, but he struggled with catching the ball throughout much of camp. He does a great job of blocking on the perimeter, but had very few balls thrown his way during the scrimmages. Behind Kemp, junior Brandon Gerau and RSF Jaleel Clark have been more consistent catching the football, but maybe don't do as many other things as well as Kemp.
Coach Yost is developing yet another generation of kickers, and the punting questions appear to be answered, as well. Sophomore Trey Barrow has pushed junior Grant Ressel for the place-kicking duties, and may handle kick-offs. Senior punter Matt Grabner has been challenged by both Barrow, and by freshman Christian Brinser, who has boomed some impressive punts, but needs to be more consistent.
Defensively, the star player throughout fall camp has been sophomore Aldon Smith. He's been pretty much unblock-able. But, Aldon is not alone at DE. Junior Jacquies Smith had a good camp, and sophomore Brad Madison and RSF Michael Sam have established themselves as Big 12 players. Sophomore Marcus Malbrough has played well throughout camp, but was simply out-performed in the scrimmages. Yet, he's another Big 12 caliber player that Missouri can call upon. Freshman Kony Ealy came on late in camp, and shows tremendous natural ability. He's raw, but he's already making people notice. During Thursday's practice, an observer asked me if Aldon Smith had changed his jersey number to #97.
On the interior, junior Dominique Hamilton has been getting a monster push up the middle. So has junior Terrell Resonno. Both of those guys look better this year, and neither has been seriously challenged for a starting job. However, one of the surprises of camp is the way that sophomore Jimmy Burge and junior Brendan Donaldson have emerged as the back-ups on the inside. Sophomore George White has been in the mix, too. The work that Burge and Donaldson have put in since last season is paying off. Freshman Lucas Vincent showed flashes throughout camp, and shows a lot of promise. It will be interesting to see where he is on the depth chart. RSF Marvin Foster stayed healthy throughout fall camp, but hasn't been able to climb the depth chart.
The Tigers incurred some injuries at LB, most notably the season-ending injury to sophomore Donovan Bonner. But, that has allowed freshman Darvin Ruise to emerge from fall camp at the number two WLB spot. Ruise will play special teams, and maybe see occasional duty at LB. He has a very bright future! Senior Luke Lambert and sophomore Zaviar Gooden each had outstanding fall camps. They are both all over the field. Senior Andrew Gachkar switched places with Gooden, moving back over to the SLB position where he started last season, and has looked good, too. Senior Jeff Gettys took advantage of an opportunity, and moved ahead of Will Ebner at the MLB spot. Gettys has played well, as has RSF back-up SLB Andrew Wilson.
One of the stars of fall camp, and one of the Tigers most improved players has been senior FS Jasper Simmons. Simmons has been all over the field, and is playing confidently, and aggressively. He's joined at safety by the very experienced junior, Kenji Jackson. Jackson has held onto the starting SS spot, despite serious challenges by several players, including junior Kenronte Walker, and RSF Matt White and Tavon Bolden. Senior Jarrell Harrison was injured early in camp, but is close to returning to action, and he'll be a factor at the safety position, as well.
Another of the stars of fall camp has been senior CB Carl Gettys. Like fellow senior, Derrick Washington, Gettis has never looked better. He's adapted very well to the more aggressive style Missouri's corners are playing, and had an outstanding camp. Senior Kevin Rutland returned from a mid-camp injury to close out the pre-season on an up-swing. Sophomore Kip Edwards has held down the number three CB spot, and played well when he was promoted to the stating unit, in Rutland's absence. He's the extra DB on the field when the Tigers go to a fifth DB, in passing situations. Another sophomore, Robert Steeples has climbed back up the depth chart during fall camp. He's another one who seems to have embraced the more aggressive style. Junior Trey Hobson has played well this fall, and is in the mix for playing time at CB. Senior Munir Prince was in the mix for playing time at corner prior to his scary collision on Thursday. It's not known at this time when he'll be able to return to action. E.J. Gaines emerged from fall camp as the top freshman. He has looked very good, and will be a very good, if not great corner at Missouri. I think he was pressing for playing time prior to Prince's injury, and it won't surprise me in the least to see him get on the field this season for the Tigers.
It was a good camp. There were a few injuries, but only two or three that will effect the depth chart for much of the season. The loss of Hunt is probably the most significant for this season. With fall camp in the rear-view mirror, we'll begin to focus on the season opener next Saturday against Illinois, which I'm sure the Tigers have already.