I've written about this quite a bit already, but this is a strange year for trying to get a read on Missouri. The Tigers have the experience you would want at quarterback, running back, offensive line, defensive tackle, linebacker, and cornerback and can call on a decent amount a tight end and safety, too. But the defensive ends are green, and the receivers are ... what's greener than green? Neon?
Nate Brown and Sean Culkin missed most of spring ball with a minor injury, which meant that the primary spring contributors at receiver and tight end had combined for six career catches -- three from Wesley Leftwich, two from J'Mon Moore, and one from Jason Reese. (Granted, with Brown included, that number would have skyrocketed to 11 career catches.) That made this unit pretty fascinating to follow from a stretch-lines-and-scrimmage-targets perspective.
So what did we learn about Mizzou receivers this spring? Not much. First, they were frequently unable to do damage against what should be a pretty awesome set of Missouri cornerbacks. But that's no grand indictment. Beyond that, we learned that J'Mon Moore could be one of Mizzou's key players for 2015.
Maty Mauk TD pass to J'Mon Moore (John Gibson in coverage)
More on the receivers
More on the receivers
Post-Dispatch: Mizzou spring football in review
Nate Brown (knee)
Brown essentially missed the entire spring, and it might be a stretch to assume he starts in the slot when camp begins in August. "It’s disappointing for him because I think he’s going to be a really good player," Henson said of Brown. "He’s a really good kid. It’s one of those things that happen. He’s just got to put in extra time before two-a-days."
The Trib (Behind the Stripes): MU Spring Game: Inside the Numbers
J’Mon Moore: 16 targets, 10 catches, 112 yards, 2 TD, INT
Wesley Leftwich: 16 targets, 6 catches, 57 yards, TD
Jason Reese: 14 targets, 7 catches, 67 yards, 2 INT
Eric Laurent: 9 targets, 8 catches, 32 yards
DeSean Blair: 5 targets, 1 catch, 1 yard
Russell Hansbrough: 4 targets, 2 catches, 16 yards
Ish Witter: 4 targets, 2 catches, 16 yards
Thomas Richard: 4 targets, 1 catch, 9 yards
Keyon Dilosa: 1 target, 1 catch, 5 yards
Tyler Hunt: 1 target, 1 catch, 5 yards
Above are David Morrison's compiled targets and catches for players while they were on the No. 1 offense. The interesting part for me here is the number of targets, not the production. They signify both who Maty Mauk looked to first (since Mauk obviously gets more first-team reps than the other quarterbacks) and who was on the field with the 1s the most frequently.
Maty Mauk rollout and great catch by Wesley Leftwich on the sideline
With Brown and Culkin out, three players became the most frequent targets: Moore, Leftwich, and Reese. Since they were the three players with catches in 2014, that shouldn't be a surprise. Meanwhile, maybe this shouldn't disappoint me, but Eric Laurent saw quite a few more targets than any of the redshirt freshmen. (Of course, perhaps the RSFrs would have seen more passes if they hadn't combined for 15 yards in 10 targets.)
Maty Mauk pass to Eric Laurent
If Moore continues to mature, he could be quite solid. He strikes me as a slightly skinnier, slightly more athletic Bud Sasser, and he's shown he can make some pretty tough catches, both in the spring game and in last year's Georgia game. But he's going to be asked to produce big numbers as a sophomore, and Sasser was able to ease into his responsibilities at a slower pace.
Brown's return will help, but Moore will be one of those make-or-break players for Mizzou's season. If you look at only proven quantities for the Tigers -- Russell Hansbrough, Evan Boehm & Connor McGovern, Harold Brantley, the linebackers and cornerbacks, Ian Simon -- you see a team that should be pretty solid even if none of the younger guys step up to any major degree. But if specific sophomores like Moore, Marcus Loud, and Anthony Sherrils begin to thrive with the new levels of responsibility they've been given, this team goes from "solid" to "legitimate contender for a third straight East crown."
No pressure, guys.