So as we read practice report after practice report, we can start to see a few emerging battles that we can pay attention to as the rest of August progresses (three weeks till kickoff!!!). I thought I'd walk through the major battles (at least, 'major' as I see them). If nothing else, this will give you something else to think about when you're reading the multitude of reports from Matter, Gabe, et cetera.
Some of the questions I had at the beginning of practice seem to have resolved themselves:
- Which freshman WR will emerge? Answer: Jerrell Jackson.
- Will anyone challenge Jake Harry at punter? Answer: No.
- Who will emerge as the main backup defensive tackle? Answer: Terrell Resonno.
- Will Derrick Washington hold onto his #1 RB gig? Answer: a resounding yes.
- Will LB depth be a problem? Answer: not really
- Will anybody challenge Castine Bridges for starting CB opposite Carl Gettis? Answer: nope.
- Will Blaine Gabbert challenge Chase Patton for the backup QB gig? Answer: not yet.
- Will Dan Hoch look as good from Day One as some thought he would? Answer: not yet.
- Will Justin Garrett face a challenge at SS? Answer: nope. He may be close to making a junior-to-senior surge like Pig Brown did last year. Okay, maybe not to that extent, but he seems to know what he's doing now.
Right Guard: Dain Wise vs Austin Wuebbels
This one's come out of nowhere. Early on we were hearing that none of the right guards could block Ziggy Hood, and after yesterday's practice it sounds like the RSFr Wuebbels has gained some steam. Wuebbels only gained notice in the spring when he was arrested for marijuana possession, and I had somewhat written off his chances of seeing too much of the field this year. But Wise, who has been "the next star O-Lineman" for three years now but has never seized one of the starting jobs, has failed to separate himself so far in August. The O-line always seems like the last unit to find a rhythm when practices start, so a lot will still work itself out here (and Dan Hoch could still catch on and insert himself into the 2-deep), but for now assumed-starter Wise has a battle on his hands. My prediction: Wise retains the job. But here's to hoping he actually wins it instead of being the default winner.
Main Backup Defensive End: Brian Coulter vs Michael Keck
At the end of spring, two redshirt freshmen--Michael Keck and Chris Earnhardt--had seized the backup DE roles, and when you've got two senior starters, that's a pretty damn nice situation. However, that was before God Himself, Brian Coulter, made his way to campus, and folks started thinking that he might even overtake perpetually-underappreciated Tommy Chavis as the starter opposite Stryker Sulak. But then Coulter went and tweaked his ankle. He's not yet to full-speed, so the Coulter vs Keck (and maybe Earnhardt) battle is still waiting to come to fruition. But Coulter has three weeks to show his stuff, and we'll all continue to assume he'll do just that. However...My prediction: I'm skeptical of JUCOs as a whole (though top JUCO DEs usually work out relatively well), so I say Keck is the #3 DE at the start of the season. We'll see what's developed by mid-season, however.
Nickel Back: Del Howard vs Hardy Ricks (vs Gilbert Moye)
I don't know what to do with Hardy Ricks. He started last year as starting CB but quickly proved that he's more adept at hitting than covering. I was advocating, as were many others, that Ricks move to safety, especially after he got injured and lost his starting job, and he did a pretty decent job with the position in the spring. Howard made a similar transition about 12 months ago, having his redshirt ripped off to play CB in his freshman campaign, then moving to safety in the offseason. When Pig Brown got hurt, it was a battle for playing time between Howard and Justin Garrett, and though Howard seems to have better ball skills, Garrett was more trustworthy and got the majority of playing time. Mizzou safeties seem to make a surge between their sophomore and junior seasons--just ask William Moore, Justin Simpson, or David Overstreet--and I've been expecting something similar with Del. At this point, he seems steady but not necessarily any better than Ricks.
Moye, meanwhile, has a sickening amount of athletic ability but is finding out that the safety position has a pretty slow learning curve. He seems to make more good AND bad plays than either Howard or Ricks, but I have to figure he's going to stay behind both of them in '08. By 2009, on the other hand...we'll see.
This battle is important for playing time, but it's quite possible that two of these three will be Mizzou's starting safeties in 2009, so I'd prefer to see all continue to get more and more experience. My prediction: I say Ricks overtakes Howard and gives Mizzou yet another hard hitter in the nickel package.
Now...I'm doing a lot of speculating considering Mizzou's only one week into August practices, and it's quite possible I could write this exact same post next Sunday with three completely different positions up for grabs. But this team has (knock on wood) so many certainties to it right now...barring injury (KNOCK ON WOOD), we're pretty much set, unless Jerrell Jackson continues to surge and threatens Jared Perry's starting spot.