The Trib (Behind the Stripes): Six for Spring: Fresh Faces
Post-Dispatch: Mizzou football faces key questions
The Missourian: Missouri football more stable entering spring football
PowerMizzou: Spring Preview: Special Teams
Spring football begins on Tuesday, as I assume you've learned from the weeks of countdown links. We generally wait until the summer to undergo our big Walkthrough pieces, but I figured I should share a few thoughts on the 2014 Tigers to mark the occasion.
To figure out exactly what we should be looking for in Spring 2014, let's start with where 2013 finished. Below is the Cotton Bowl depth chart (found in PDF form here); I have marked out the players no longer with the team, and I have added (in italics) other returnees (or new spring enrollees) at the position. Obviously I'm taking some guesses with some positions (receivers, offensive linemen, defensive tackles, linebackers, safeties). By looking at this faux depth chart, we'll have a good understanding of what we should be looking at in the coming weeks.
James Franklin, Maty Mauk (So.), Eddie Printz (RSFr.), Corbin Berkstresser (Jr.), Trent Hosick (RSFr.), Marvin Zanders (Fr.)
Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough (Jr.), Marcus Murphy (Sr.), Morgan Steward (So.)
- WR-X: Dorial Green-Beckham (Jr.),
Jaleel Clark, J'Mon Moore (RSFr.)
Marcus Lucas, Levi Copelin (So.), Gavin Otte (Jr.)
L'Damian Washington, Darius White (Sr.), Sheldon Gerau (Jr.)
- WR-H: Bud Sasser (Sr.), Jimmie Hunt (Sr.), Wesley Leftwich (Jr.)
Eric Waters, Sean Culkin (So.), Clayton Echard (Jr.), Jason Reese (RSFr.)
Justin Britt, Jordan Williams (So.), Mike Fairchild (Fr.)
Max Copeland, Anthony Gatti (Sr.), Stephen Carberry (Sr.)
- C: Evan Boehm (Jr.), Brad McNulty (Jr.), Alec Abeln (RSFr.)
- RG: Connor McGovern (Jr.), Mitch L. Hall (Jr.)
- RT: Mitch Morse (Sr.), Taylor Chappell (Jr.), Clay Rhodes (RSFr.)
Mauk vs. Printz. Obviously a quarterback battle is going to occupy a lot of headlines, but we'll learn this spring whether Mizzou actually has a quarterback battle. Maty Mauk passed his audition in 2013, going 3-1 while subbing in for an injured James Franklin, but Printz generated more behind-the-scenes buzz than anybody I can remember in quite a while. We have to figure Mauk wins the job here, but if Printz lights up the scrimmages like he did last August, it could get interesting, and in the best possible way.
Where does Hunt go? We have to figure Jimmie Hunt begins the spring as a first-stringer at either the Y or Z receiver spots. Which one? And who gets the fourth spot, Darius White? How quickly does J'Mon Moore insert his name into the mix?
How is the tight end used? I'm not sure we'll get an answer to this in the spring, as what we saw last spring wasn't quite what we saw in the fall. The TE became more and more of a blocker as 2013 unfolded; perhaps we'll get an idea of what's intended for this position, at least.
What happens at right tackle? We've been under the assumption that Mitch Morse will move from RT to LT to take Justin Britt's place on the blind side. If this is true, who takes Morse's place? Taylor Chappell and Jordan Williams were the backups last year, but Clay Rhodes generated a good amount of buzz himself. Are we to assume that one of these three wins the job? Is there a surprise in store, like Anthony Gatti moving back to tackle?
Michael Sam, Shane Ray (Jr.), Rickey Hatley (RSFr.), Charles Harris (RSFr.)
- DT: Matt Hoch (Sr.), Josh Augusta (So.), Nate Crawford (RSFr.), Evan Winston (So.)
- NG: Harold Brantley (So.), Lucas Vincent (Sr.), A.J. Logan (RSFr.), DeQuinton Osborne (RSFr.)
Kony Ealy, Markus Golden (Sr.), Brayden Burnett, Marcus Loud (RSFr.)
- WLB: Kentrell Brothers (Jr.), Darvin Ruise (Sr.), Brandon Lee (Fr.)
Andrew Wilson, Michael Scherer (So.), Eric Beisel (RSFr.)
Donovan Bonner, Clarence Green (Jr.), Donavin Newsom (So.), Joey Burkett (RSFr.)
E.J. Gaines, Aarion Penton (So.), Xavier Smith, Ernest Payton (So.), Logan Cheadle (Fr.)
Randy Ponder, John Gibson (So.), David Johnson (Jr.), Anthony Sherrils (RSFr.), Kenya Dennis (Jr.)
- SS: Braylon Webb (Sr.), Ian Simon (Jr.), Chaston Ward (So.)
Matt White, Cortland Browning (Jr.), Duron Singleton (Sr.), Shaun Rupert (RSFr.)
Who mans the middle? As strange as it sounds in a lineup that loses Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, and E.J. Gaines, the most interesting replacement to me comes in Andrew Wilson's spot at MLB. We know who will be starting at end, and we think we know who will be starting at CB, but who takes Wilson's place? Does Magic Mike Scherer get the call? Does Kentrell Brothers move over? What about special teams ace Donavin Newsom, who basically played Brothers' "hard-hitting special teams guy" role in 2013? Might Eric Beisel be ready to make a run? And while we're at it, where does Darvin Ruise line up? Is he an MLB candidate? Does he move over to SLB to try to take Donovan Bonner's place? The linebacker unit has a lot of exciting candidates but more questions than answers at the moment.
Corner free-for-all. We've been assuming that Aarion Penton and John Gibson will slide into the first-string roles at cornerback after a year as primary understudies. But with Ernest Payton returning (remember, Payton was ahead of both Penton and Gibson on the depth chart before injuring his knee one week into the season), along with 2013 spring star David Johnson, perhaps the Penton-Gibson duo isn't guaranteed. Plus, this spring offers us a chance to get good looks at JUCO transfer Kenya Dennis (who could be in the running for early playing time at nickel back) and youngsters Anthony Sherrils (a speedster) and Logan Cheadle.
Backups at end. We know Markus Golden and Shane Ray will be the starting defensive ends; that is both obvious and exciting. But who steps up to fill the second-string roles? Marcus Loud was the most highly-touted recruit, Rickey Hatley is the oldest (by a year), and Charles Harris has all sorts of "diamond in the rough" buzz.
Simon vs. Singleton vs. ? Braylon Webb is a stalwart at strong safety, but who lines up at free safety? Ian Simon was mostly serviceable as a sophomore in 2013, but Duron Singleton showed quite a bit of upside between eligibility issues and injuries. I assume Simon starts the spring as the starter; who finishes it? And what might youngsters like Chaston Ward or Shaun Rupert have to say about things?
Mizzou's 2014 squad has a strange mix of proven play-making ability and experience (DGB, Golden/Ray, Mauk, the running backs, Hunt/Sasser, the interior offensive line, Brothers) and question marks (WR depth, DE depth, LB shuffling, CB inexperience). That's kind of a best-case scenario for spring practice, really; it's not boring because you've got questions to answer, but it's not scary because there are some proven entities.
And yes, this seems like as good a time as any for us to remind ourselves of the act the 2014 team will be following. Enjoy.