Gary Pinkel leads his Missouri Tigers into Year No. 2 of SEC play this spring.
Missouri's first trip through the vaunted SEC left Tigers fans disappointed for the first time in years. Gary Pinkel built this program into a Big 12 powerhouse and it appears he will have to start over again in the most powerful league in the nation. The good news is this team returns a lot of offensive talent and the entire program should be better prepared to battle against SEC defenses. But it all starts with spring practice.
Missouri Tigers 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 5-7 (2-6)
Spring practice dates: March 12-April 20
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6
Passing: James Franklin, 139-of-234, 1,562 yards, 10 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Marcus Murphy, 46 car., 251 yards, 1 TDs
Receiving: Marcus Lucas, 46 rec., 509 yards, 3 TDs
Tackles: Andrew Wilson, 80
Sacks: Michael Sam, 4.5
Interceptions: Four tied with 1
Redshirts to Watch: QB Maty Mauk, LB Michael Scherer, OT Jordan Williams, WR Levi Copelin, LB Donavin Newsome, RB Morgan Steward, DL Markus Golden, S Chaston War, LB Torey Boozer, DL Evan Winston, DL Harold Brantley
Early Enrollees to Watch: QB Trent Hosick, QB Eddie Printz
JUCO Transfer to Watch: DB Duron Singleton
Aug. 31 Murray State
Sept. 7 Toledo
Sept. 14 Bye Week
Sept. 21 at Indiana
Sept. 28 Arkansas State
Oct. 5 at Vanderbilt
Oct. 12 at Georgia
Oct. 19 Florida
Oct. 26 South Carolina
Nov. 1 Tennessee
Nov. 9 at Kentucky
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 at Ole Miss
Nov. 30 Texas A&M
Offensive Strength: The passing game. James Franklin returns under center, ideally healthier than he has been in over a year, as does a deep and talented receiving corps.
Offensive Weakness: Running back. This position has been an issue for Pinkel of late and Kendial Lawrence has departed. Questions remain about Henry Josey and his ability to carry the load after missing 2012 with a knee injury.
Defensive Strength: Secondary. Three of the top four returning tacklers, including EJ Gaines, will play in the defensive backfield this season.
Defensive Weakness: The front seven. Sheldon Richardson, Zaviar Gooden, Brad Madison and Will Ebner have all departed leaving Pinkel looking for star power up front.
Spring Storylines Facing Mizzou:
1. Rebuild the defensive line. Losing Richardson and Jimmy Burge from the heart of the defensive line will hurt while the absence of Madison on the outside will be felt as well. Returning starter Matt Hoch will spearhead this group but Pinkel needs to provide a supporting cast. Lucas Vincent and Marvin Foster have some experience and redshirt freshman Harold Brantley (6-3, 300) has garnered a lot of attention this offseason. Michael Sam, the team's leading sack man a year ago, is back as is Kony Ealy, Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Organizing this depth chart to compete with the massive SEC offensive lines will be imperative this spring.
2. Replace Gooden and Ebner at linebacker. Andrew Wilson returns after leading the team in tackles a year ago, but the leadership and athletic ability of the departing duo at linebacker will be tough to replace. Donovan Bonner will need to take the next step in his development while Pinkel searches for contributors at this position. In the SEC, this is a position of elite speed, versatility and physicality. Mizzou needs to find those type of players this spring.
3. Keep the stars healthy. Both quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey have dealt with major injuries throughout their careers. Keeping these two key offensive components healthy will be a big step in the right direction for an offense that was uncharacteristically unproductive a year ago. This goes for the offensive line as well. Justin Britt, Mitch Morse and Taylor Chappell all dealt with injuries a year ago. This group of players, along with new offensive coordinator Josh Henson, will be charged with improving the 96th-rated offense from a year ago.
4. Can Josey be a feature tailback? Of those injured offensive players, Josey might be the biggest question mark. The undersized (5-10, 190) running back shredded his knee late in the 2011 season and it cost him the entire 2012 campaign. He had rushed for nearly 1,200 yards before getting hurt and it is unknown if he can handle the workload of an SEC workhorse back. Ideally, Pinkel will be able to take it easy on his star running back this spring while developing names like Marcus Murphy, Russell Hansbrough and Morgan Steward. Building the depth chart at this position has to be an area of focus this spring.
5. Organize the O-Line. Replacing Elvis Fisher, Jack Meiners and Travis Ruth will be key, but since all three had injury issues in 2012, plenty of backups got playing time. The offensive line is tied directly to success in the SEC, so organizing the depth chart and keeping bodies healthy will be important this spring. Morse, Chappell and Britt should all be penciled in as starters while sophomores Evan Boehm and Brad McNulty continue to develop. This group, should it stay healthy, could be a much improved area of the team in 2013.
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