As we flip back toward football, I feel the need to point people back to the ehhhhhhpic series of posts we threw together back in January to prepare ourselves for the 2010 football season. This should get you primed and ready for both upcoming content and the Black & Gold game just a week and a half from now.
Blaine Gabbert's advantages over the sophomore version of Daniel were pretty obvious -- his arm strength allowed him to fire more high-percentage passes further down the field, offering a similar completion rate while averaging more yards per pass. Even despite the injury (and receivers adapting to the fact that he throws a lot harder than his predecessor), Gabbert threw fewer picks than Daniel, and I would not have guessed that at the beginning of the year. His decision-making in terms of where to throw the ball were outstanding for a guy who barely played as either a true freshman or a high school senior -- he rarely trusted his arm too much just on the basis of its strength.
Gabbert's disadvantages were just as obvious. While his decision-making was solid, his instincts are still a work in progress. Bowling Green almost beat Mizzou by getting into Gabbert's head, dropping a ton of defenders into coverage, making him feel a pass rush that wasn't there, and forcing bad decisions. Aside from a bit of regression in the bowl game, he learned from that experience and didn't make the same mistakes. Still, his instincts led him astray at times, in terms of when to escape the pocket, when to step up and fire, and when to simply throw the ball away. Daniel was the most instinctively strong quarterback Mizzou will probably ever have, and his ability to avoid killer mistakes and throw the ball away when the need arose led to a much more consistent, steady Mizzou offense; Gabbert's 2009 offense was much more boom-or-bust.
Mizzou's defense has thrown a ton of different looks at Gabbert this spring, and he has responded with mixed results. Sounds like he's thrown a few picks, but ... it's spring ball. That's alright. Spring is for further figuring out what you can and can't get away with, and Gabbert's engrossed in the learning process.
Derrick Washington managed just 865 rushing yards, and his per-carry average fell from 5.9 to 4.6. He ran the ball 13 more times and produced 171 fewer yards. Even his receiving averages fell, from 29 receptions at 9.6 yards a catch, to 26 catches and 6.0 yards per.
Why did this happen? Was the play-calling really to blame? Was Washington's knee not actually fully healthy? Were opponents really keying on the run to force Gabbert to make plays? Were the new blocking schemes partially introduced by new assistant Josh Henson harder to grasp than expected? Was Washington simply not as decisive and on his game for a portion of the season?
The answer is, of course, yes. It was almost certainly a combination of all of those factors. (The world is just full of gray areas, isn't it?)
In the end, Washington had pretty much every type of game a running back can have:
- Plenty of Carries, Little Results: Furman (15 carries for 45 yards)
- Plenty of Carries, Solid Results: Bowling Green (23 for 120), Nebraska (20 for 80 ... not great, obviously, but not bad), Colorado (22 for 99), Kansas (15 for 111)
- Productive, but Few Carries: Kansas State (13 for 68), Iowa State (11 for 62), Navy (11 for 62)
- Not Productive, Few Carries: Oklahoma State (10 for 35), Texas (11 for 35), Baylor (9 for 12)
- Meh: Illinois (14 for 61), Nevada (16 for 75)
With De'Vion Moore out until this week with injury and Gilbert Moye leaving the team, a lot of focus has been on Washington and Kendial Lawrence. It appears Washington has dropped some pounds and (warning: spring ball hyperbole) looks lighter and quicker than he did last year.
It seems like we've heard about The Legend of Ro [Rolandis Woodland] ever since he showed up on Missouri's radar. We know about the supposedly electrifying straight line speed he possesses. What we don't know is what we've never seen: production from him on Saturdays. Of course, Ro isn't wholly to blame for his lack of opportunities. But if ever there was a time for Woodland to take control and seize a role by the throat, this offseason will be it. Missouri's offense will be in desperate need of the type of threat that Woodland is supposed to provide. The stacked depth chart excuse is now gone. The ball's in your court, Ro. What are you going to do with it?
So far this spring, the answer is ... quite a bit! Word from practice reports is that he has performed well, albeit a bit inconsistently.
Bill C.: The emergence of Danario Alexander potentially damaged no one player more than Mike Egnew, who had a solid spring (which ended early due to a high ankle sprain) and an almost non-existent fall. Egnew saw the field quite a bit but caught only three balls all year, which was less than the average number of passes he seemed to catch in a given scrimmage last spring. Again, we know the potential causes -- maybe 1) Danario was playing too well in the "big receiver" role to worry about anybody else, or 2) the Mizzou coaching staff made a conscious choice to move TEs and big WRs to more of a blocking role as the summer and fall progressed, or just 3) Egnew didn't practice well and seemed to have already maxed out his abilities. We'll start to learn the answer come springtime, but there's no question that Egnew's 2009 season did not play out like we thought it would twelve (or even five) months ago.
RPT: Every Mizzou fan wants to compare tight ends to Martin Rucker or Chase Coffman. Every fan from outside MU wants to compare Mizzou's tight ends to wide receivers. Michael Egnew is in the odd position of falling somewhere directly in the center of all of these comparisons. He doesn't seem to possess the physicality of Rucker. We don't know if he has the ball skills of Coffman (although to be fair, I've NEVER seen anyone with ball skills anywhere CLOSE to those of Coffman). He doesn't come with the reputation of shiftiness and explosiveness that many of his receiver counterparts do. But he seems to be an curious combination of parts of all of these different roles, which makes his development so intriguing. I'm not sure he becomes the redzone threat or the sideline fade target that we all hoped for to replace Coffman. But from what little we've seen, he looks like a FANTASTIC option on short timing routes, especially when placed opposite a linebacker. The quick slant, quick out, and the inside route of the four verticals all cater extremely well to Eggo's skill set, especially if he's "hidden" as a "tight end."
Egnew is another person who has had a breakout spring. We'll just have to see if it translates to the fall this time.
Okay, time for the question mark. While Mizzou returns Hoch, Fisher and Barnes, they have to replace one starting guard (Kurtis Gregory), and the other one left something to be desired at times. I'll say this right out front: I do not know nearly as much about the inner workings of offensive line play -- I just know that if I notice you on the line, chances are it's because you screwed something up. Who are the two linemen I noticed most in 2009? Gregory and Austin Wuebbels. Guard play was underwhelming, and whether it was because of youth (for Wuebbels, at least), or the slightly new blocking schemes, or whatever, it was what it was, and fixing this issue could be as important as any other issue on the table for 2010.
Wuebbels will enter 2010 as the obvious leader for one of two starting guard positions, but I honestly don't think there's a competition for just Gregory's replacement spot at right guard -- I think a solid spring from one of the players below could result in two new starters on the line.
Wuebbels has missed a decent portion of the spring due to, I believe, back spasms.
The next step for Agent Aldon Smith: consistency. He had 3.0 tackles for loss (one sack) against Illinois, 4.0 tackles for loss (two sacks) and 11 solo tackles against Texas, and 4.0 tackles for loss (three sacks) against Colorado ... and just 7.5 total tackles (2.0 for loss) in the final three games of the season. Teams, I think, started figuring out his tendencies a little bit (that's what usually happens) and better knew how to handle him. It was possible to take him out of games if you knew how. If Smith wants to take the step from good (and sometimes really good) to great, he has to absorb the lessons from the bad games, figuring out how to read situations better and learning more moves. If he does learn and grow ... holy moly. He has already become Mizzou's latest great end named Smith (joining Justin and Brian), but with three years of eligibility left (good luck keeping him that long if he continues to improve), he's still got quite a bit of blank canvas left -- he could leave the other Smiths in the dust when all is said and done.
So far so good from the consistency standpoint ... at least in spring ball. We'll see what double- and triple-teams he begins to see this fall.
Two players with completely different athletic resumes -- George White was a big linebacker who took the Lorenzo Williams route from LB to DE to DT, Jimmy Burge was recruited as a DT and is built to be just that. They took turns edging past each other on the depth chart this year, with White taking the lead, then getting briefly surpassed by Burge, but they registered just one box-score worthy play between the two of them. ... It would help Mizzou significantly if one of these two players (I really don't care which, though it would be fun having a contributor with crazy blonde hair) raised their game this spring. At least one of them will be on the two-deep just by default, but if one could actually seize playing time instead of stumbling across it, I'll feel much better about the DT depth.
With Marvin Foster missing the spring due to (another) freak injury, White and Burge have both gotten plenty of reps with the first- and second-strings. From what we can gather, neither has done just a ton with it.
Only in the linebacking corps can someone of Luke Lambert's skillset and production be considered somewhat overlooked. Mizzou's group of backers is teeming with such youthful upside that Lambert continues to be short sold. His starting spot is likely gone for good to Ebner, but Lambert has turned into such a clone of Brock Christopher that it really is hard to count him out. The rest of the group has the potential to be very high upside/high variance, but Lambert likely brings a very solid, sound performance each and every week. And that really seems to be the best way to describe Lambert: sound and solid. Is he solid enough to warrant time over these "big potential" guys coming up next to him?
How good a spring has Lambert had? He's actually passed Hurricane Ebner on the depth chart, at least for now. Between Lambert, Ebner, Andrew Gachkar, Zaviar Gooden, Donovan Bonner, Tyler Crane, and an apparently healthy (or at least healthier) Josh Tatum, it would take a truckload of hyperbole to overstate just how strong Mizzou's LB corps looks at this point.
The breakthrough player of last spring, Kevin Rutland was a starter for the entire 2009 season, and he was ... fine. He had a couple of timely picks, showed a Gettis-like opportunistic streak ... and got roasted quite a few times. Were the lapses due to inexperience (despite the fact that he was a junior, 2009 was his first season playing full-time) or to the fact that he's already hitting his head on his own personal ceiling? We have heard from multiple reporters that he has wonderful overall athleticism, and he was just starting to figure things out last spring. Will he improve a lot his senior year, or is inconsistency what we have to expect from him in 2010 too?The answer to that last question completely shapes this Walkthrough. Either we are looking at two entrenched senior starters, with youngsters behind them positioning themselves for a starting job in 2011, or we are looking at one all-but-certain starter (Gettis) with another senior fending off major challenges from every direction. I would not be surprised if it's the former, but I kind of think (hope) it is the latter.
It appears to be more of the former so far -- Gettis and Rutland are rather clearly the starters, as Rutland has managed to have himself another breakout spring. In experimenting with more aggressive coverages (not completely unheard of -- they were aggressive at times last year too), both Rutland and Gettis appear to have thrived.
Whereas Mizzou had the audacity to get commitments from only 3- and 4-star players in the current recruiting class (therefore making it rather difficult to pick out sleepers), the 2009 class had two good, old-fashioned sleeper candidates in White and Bolden, both of whom committed late in the recruiting year, presumably after Mizzou had missed out on other targets.
Does that mean I'm not excited about these guys? Au contraire! Bolden's name came up in every single Texas Bowl practice report -- he seemingly made at least one huge hit every practice -- and I've been intrigued by White ever since I read this strangely unique quote from Steckel via PowerMizzou last Signing Day:
"I knew about Matt, he wasn't high on our radar from the standpoint of we were recruiting some other people. The thing about Matt, I think he's going to be a huge sleeper and why do I say that? Because he just turned 17 years old. He just turned 17. I know I'm getting old, but he looks like he's 12. He'll probably kill me if I say that. He's got huge hands, he's got great ball skills. You watch him make a play in his highlight film, he makes one of those Chase Coffman catches, he just one hands it for an interception...We knew about him and I went back into his school, we watched his old video again and he said, 'Think about it, this guy should be a junior right now.' So we brought it back to the staff and we went through our evaluation system and everybody kind of liked him."
First of all, I'd say he doesn't look a day younger than 15. So there's that. But for whatever reason that quote (and other things I read about him) piqued my curiosity. It's not like I'm predicting he'll be a starter by the end of spring, but I really want to see what he can do.
As for Bolden, beyond the big hits, I'm a little confused about whether he's actually a safety, or whether he's made the move to linebacker. I could have sworn he was still playing as a safety in December practices, but MUtigers.com has him listed as a linebacker, and they usually stay pretty up-to-date. Regardless of the position he plays, Bolden's name was on the fingertips of Dave Matter, Gabe Dearmond, etc., in December, and I'm more excited about him now than when he signed.
Bolden's name was all over the early spring reports until an injury slowed him down, and White has been making up ground ever since. With these two and Kenronte Walker entering the mix, Mizzou does appear to have a wealth of options at safety.
Technically, the punt return depth chart is a lot like kick returns. You've got a solid option in Gettis, who also got better in the role as the season progressed, but he got hurt on a punt return against Nebraska, and it is well-covered territory what happened when Gettis went out. Meanwhile, Gerau is a guarantee to field the ball cleanly, but he's not going to score any touchdowns back there. If somebody like Holt/Hunt can step in and steal the job away, great. Gettis appears pretty good at what he does back there, but he is so counted upon elsewhere that if somebody else emerges, give him the job. If nobody emerges, there are worse options in the world. We'll see.
Special Teams aren't a huge portion of spring ball, but it does sound like maybe T.J. Moe and some other options have begun to emerge at punt returner. With Gettis' injury trouble last year, I won't complain at all if somebody else is manning the duties, even though Gettis was pretty good at it .