Spring practice is quietly shuffling along as Spring Break approaches. Let's get the latest on the primary spring story lines.
What is Mizzou's offense going to be?
"That’s all part of spring football," Henson said. "We’ve had some young wide receivers out here for four days. We’re figuring out where they’re at, but I think you have to start somewhere. You have to believe in something and start somewhere. Then you go from there. We’ll start with what we’ve been, and the kids know that. We’ll get a good look at where we’re at and, through the spring, we’ll adjust. We’ll do some different things and some more things offensively.
"That’s constant evaluation. ‘What is your personnel? Who are your playmakers, and what do they do well? Then, let’s do those things.’ Obviously there’s a big focus here at first seeing just where we’re at at the receiver position."
Henson’s mind is on the equation at wideout, as are the minds of most Missouri fans.
So what does Mizzou's offensive personnel do well (as far as we know)? Well, the run blocking certainly seemed strong late last season, and Russell Hansbrough's back. And there are now four tight ends capable of blocking well and, in theory, occasionally running some routes. That would suggest a decent power identity this fall. And of course, the lack of proven receivers certainly won't prevent that identity from further taking root.
"...Our focus right now is leadership and completion percentage," quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said. "If you're sitting on 53-percent, you need to be 63-percent. You improve 10-percent. So our focus is on ball placement and it really comes down to footwork and where the ball is."
In 2014, Mauk completed 53.4-percent of his passes, after a 51.1-percent mark in 2013. In his 18 starts, he has more games with a sub 50-percent completion rate (8) than games with a rate of at least 60-percent (5).
Furthermore, Mauk is throwing to a largely unproven group of receivers this spring, and one of the starters -- sophomore Nate Brown -- is out until after spring break with a knee sprain.
I write about a lot of college football teams in the offseason, and I've got to say that I don't see many instances of a quarterback improving his completion percentage by 10 percent in a single year. Improving by three to four percent is a pretty big deal. Big shifts in efficiency can happen -- hell, yesterday's previewee (Southern Miss) saw its quarterback go from 49 to 60 percent in one year -- but it's rare enough to be noteworthy. Considering the receiving corps, I'd be happy if Maty Mauk got up to the 56-58 percent range. But hey, spring is the time for big goals.
Running backs coach Brian Jones said Hansbrough's workload is something of which they're aware.
"We try to rotate our backs through there," Jones said. "It's hard to monitor how many carries they've had through the whole season and then during games, OK, he's had ten, take him out of the game. We can do that. But that's one of the main reasons we try to rotate guys, so we stay healthy, so they don't take too much of a pounding and so we can make it through a football season."
Jones said the team goes into every season in the hopes of having five guys ready to carry the ball, but for each game, that number is three. In fact, Jones said that having a rotation of two is a "more manageable" number, but offensive coordinator Josh Henson said the recent size of Missouri's running backs (smaller, shiftier backs) causes the team to ideally have bigger rotations.
It's a big spring for Trevon Walters. Mizzou has a proven workhorse in Russell Hansbrough, and Ish Witter clearly got a jump on the No. 2 role by playing as a true freshman last year. If Walters or former walk-on Tyler Hunt can carve out a niche this spring (before some interesting 2015 signees join the rotation), that could be very good for both their own playing-time prospects this fall and for keeping Hansbrough's potential work load down.
More on the new guy
Despite working with five different programs in six years, Walters found a few mentors along the way. His first was Louisville secondary coach Greg Brown, who was his position coach at Colorado. The two reunited at Arizona, where Walters got his first full-time coaching position.
"He got me interested in the profession (coaching)," Walters said. "He was the one who really talked me into giving it a shot."
While at Arizona, Walters met up with Barry Odom, who is now Missouri's defensive coordinator. The two met when the Tigers' defensive staff traveled to Tucson in 2010 to meet with the Wildcats. Odom remembers a young and confident Walters during Arizona’s practices.