Thursday, May 6, 2010
Missouri spring wrap
By ESPN.com staff
2009 overall record: 8-5
2009 conference record: 4-4
Returning starters: Offense (9), Defense(9) P/K (1)
Top returners: QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Derrick Washington, WR Wes Kemp, LB Will Ebner, DE Aldon Smith, CB Carl Gettis, CB Kevin Rutland
Key losses: WR Danario Alexander, LB Sean Weatherspoon, DE Brian Coulter, DT Jaron Baston, OL Kurtis Gregory, P Jake Harry
2009 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Derrick Washington* (865 yards)
Passing: Blaine Gabbert (3,593 yards)
Receiving: Danario Alexander (1,781 yards)
Tackles: Sean Weatherspoon (111)
Sacks: Aldon Smith* (11.5)
Interceptions: Kevin Rutland* (2)
Three spring answers
1. Rutland speaks up. Without Missouri’s best—and loudest player—on defense, Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri needed to find a new voice opposite the offense. It’s not quite as loud, but senior cornerback Kevin Rutland emerged as the defensive leader in the spring. He’ll need to back it up with his play, but did what he could in 15 practices, picking off four passes in the Tigers’ five scrimmages.
2. Depth at receiver: Found. Experienced juniors Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson figured to be big factors in the passing game after Danario Alexander graduated. Not so much for sophomore T.J. Moe, who caught just two passes as a freshman, would be as big of a factor as he became in the spring. A quarterback in high school, Moe came to Missouri as the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, and found a new position at receiver. He caught more passes during scrimmages this spring than any other Missouri receiver, including 12 in the spring game.
3. No problems backing the line. Missouri is replacing Weatherspoon, but isn’t short on talent at linebacker. It might be the team’s strongest and deepest position. Luke Lambert and Andrew Gachkar are experienced seniors, and Missouri has plenty of others who can play, including Will Ebner, Donovan Bonner and Zaviar Gooden.
Three fall questions
1. Will the secondary improve? Missouri’s pass defense was the second-worst in the conference a season ago. They’ll be fielding the same four players in the secondary, now all seniors. But will the experience mean improvement? It better, otherwise Missouri will have to score in the 30s to consistently win games.
2. How good can Blaine Gabbert and Aldon Smith be? Both have the potential to become one of, if not the best in college football at their positions. But as of now, it’s just that. Both were extremely productive in 2009, and Gabbert did most of it on a gimpy ankle. If both continue to get better like coach Gary Pinkel believes they will, a North title is certainly within reach. If not, the Tigers won’t stray far from eight wins.
3. Can the Tigers get over the hump? Oklahoma stood between Missouri’s first Big 12 title twice in the past two seasons. The Tigers were dominated by Texas in Columbia last season, and now Nebraska looks like the favorite to win the North. They’ll take on the Huskers in Lincoln this year, but for Missouri to win the Big 12, it’ll have to win more games it’s not supposed to win than it’s had to in awhile.