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Missouri Tigers: Team Overview
Returning Offensive Starters: 8 (FL, WR, LT, LG, C, RT, TE, QB)
Returning Defensive Starters: 6 (RDE, DT, LDE, MLB, RCB, FS)
Returning Specialists: 1 (PK)
Projected Overall Record: 6-6 (OM, TAM, UF, UGA, VU, USC)
Projected SEC Record: 2-6 (OM, TAM, UF, UGA, VU, USC)
Projected SEC East Record: 2-4 (UF, UGA, VU, USC)
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Quarterbacks: Av Defensive Line: Fr
Running Backs: Av Linebackers: Fr
Wide Receivers: Av Defensive Backs: Fr
Offensive Line: Fr Special Teams: Av
Unlike fellow SEC newbie Texas A&M, Missouri wasn’t up to the challenge of conference competition in 2012. The Tigers battled injury issues all season long, but more so than injuries was the issue of softness. This was a team that wasn’t particularly athletic, dangerous or well organized. For 2013, Missouri returns plenty of experience, but that calls into question the age-old dilemma of whether experienced middle-of-the-road players are a good thing or not. This could be Gary Pinkel’s last year in charge of the program, and he didn’t help his long-term prospects much when he signed the most disappointing recruiting class in the SEC in February, at least relative to expectations.
Missouri runs the Big 12′s version of a spread offense, a finesse scheme that looks for matchup advantages downfield and runs the ball almost as an afterthought. Eight starters return, but there are serious questions about the offensive line, and the receiver corps needs to take several steps up. There are several potential playmakers on this side of the ball, but the training staff needs to keep them healthy.
James Franklin could be one of the conference’s best signal-callers, but he needs to stay upright first. Franklin was a dynamic playmaker in the Big 12, but he was hurt early in the 2012 campaign and never got back on track. If his shoulder is solid, Franklin is probably the second-best dual-threat QB in the league behind Johnny Manziel. If he gets hurt again, though, Pinkel can contact a realtor. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk won the backup job in the spring away from Corbin Berkstresser, who started against Alabama and did absolutely nothing. Mauk will be a good one, but probably not this year. Signees Trent Hosick and Eddie Printz arrived early for spring practice and could push Berkstresser out of a job soon.
If Henry Josey is healthy, Missouri could have a real running threat. Josey missed all of 2012, but is a tough back with above-average speed and toughness. The key is his knee, which he blew out going on two years ago. He had a strong spring, but the coaches will have to monitor his activity. Russell Hansbrough was the backup coming out of spring, but he did absolutely nothing last year and needs to improve. Marcus Murphy was a decent backup to starter Kendial Lawrence last year, but both he and Hansbrough are tiny by SEC standards. Junior Greg White has a bit more beef, but didn’t get much work last year. Missouri uses no fullback.
Even though he isn’t a starter, the name Dorial Green-Beckham is tops on everyone’s want-to-talk-about-it list thanks to his status as the No. 1 recruit in the nation two years ago. Green-Beckham’s first year did not go smoothly, as he was physically overwhelmed and just plain out-toughed by most SEC secondaries. He also failed to grab a starting job this spring, but that might be more the function of Marcus Lucas, L’Damian Washington and Bud Sasser returning in their roles. Lucas is a particularly troubling matchup for cornerbacks, given his impressive height and bulk. Washington also has good size, but needs to increase his productivity. Sasser is a decent slot option. Green-Beckham will likely be the fourth receiver, and could play some slot tight end as he did last year. Jaleel Clark and Jimmie Hunt are the only other experienced names on the roster. At tight end, Eric Waters returns as one of the most experienced in the SEC at the position, but he needs to improve. His blocking skills weren’t up to par last year, and he needs to be more involved in the passing game. Redshirt freshman Sean Culkin, who has a big body and soft hands, might actually unseat him as a starter before camp breaks.
This is a hard group to figure; it has plenty of experience and leadership, but the talent just isn’t there. The best of the group is either center Evan Boehm, who played guard in 2012, or left tackle Justin Britt. The rest of the unit is sort of a mishmash, with former center Mitch Morse moving to right tackle and a former walk-on, Max Copeland, returning at left guard. Alabama completely destroyed this unit last year, and several other teams gave the Tigers trouble as well. Right guard is now in the hands of Connor McGovern, a sophomore without a lot of playing experience. Brad McNulty will back up Boehm in the middle, while Mitch Hall and Nick Demien are the reserve guards. Anthony Gatti and Taylor Chappell will handle the reserve tackle duties; Chappell is pegged as a future star.
Just as Missouri’s offense had trouble with softness last year, so did the defense. While Missouri wasn’t terrible, much of its success was due to DT Sheldon Richardson, who took his talents to the NFL. What’s left are a handful of quality players and some others who might not pop the three-deep at an Alabama or LSU. Missouri needs more consistency from its linebackers and defensive backfield. The Tigers employ a 4-3 as their base look.
With Richardson gone in the middle, Matt Hoch goes from being a supporting player to the bellcow of the line. Replacing Richardson will be Lucas Vincent, who has plenty of experience but hasn’t done much thus far in his college career. His productivity must improve. Ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam have the potential to be very good, but both need to get more consistent. Ealy, in particuar, gets ridden out of plays by good offensive tackles far too often. The depth situation is mostly a collection of projects and younger players. Freshman Harold Brantley will likely push Vincent in the middle and could be one of the best interior linemen in the SEC by the time he’s a junior or senior. Senior journeymen Marvin Foster and Brayden Burnett will back up tackle and end, respectively. Sophomore Shane Ray and junior Markus Golden are also available at end.
Middle linebacker Andrew Wilson returns, but he has precious little help. Veteran backups Darvin Ruise and Donovan Bonner came out of spring the starters at weakside and strongside linebacker, but they didn’t impress. Kentrell Brothers will push for playing time at both positions. Youngsters Clarence Green and Donavin Newsom will provide depth. In the middle, Michael Scherer has a ton of potential, and may end up outside out of necessity.
Provided E.J. Gaines can get 100-percent healthy by the start of the season, he could be one of the better corners in the conference by year’s end. Gaines had a rough SEC debut season, but has the size and technique needed to take the next step. As for who starts across from him, pick a name out of a hat. David Johnson had the job at the end of the spring, but Randy Ponder and Xavier Smith appear to have moved ahead of him. John Gibson and Ernest Payton will also play, showing that Missouri has good depth here, even if it’s unproven depth. At safety, Braylon Webb returns at free safety. Senior Matt White moves up into a starting role for the first time at string safety, with Ian Simon and true freshman Duron Singleton providing depth. The Tigers need much better safety play in 2013 than they got in 2012.
Placekicker Andrew Baggett had a rocky freshman year, but he had a good spring camp and should be much improved. Junior Christian Brinser is the new punter. The kick return game looks to be mostly the property of reserve tailback Marcus Murphy. Missouri was fairly stead here last season and if Brinser can fill the punter’s role well enough, the Tigers should be in good shape.
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