SEC: Gahn McGaffie
Outside of veteran T.J. Moe, who will be a senior this fall, Missouri's returning receiving targets have combined for 51 catches for 712 yards and five touchdowns in their careers.
But when you talk to players and coaches at Missouri, those numbers tell a much different story. They say that while the returners aren’t burning up the stat sheet, it hasn't been because of a lack of talent.
"It's only unproven because guys haven't got the chance to do anything yet," Moe said. "We have a lot of good receivers out here and we have a lot of guys out here who have made plays."
Last year, Moe led the Tigers with 54 receptions and 649 yards. Behind him, Missouri had former All-American tight end Michael Egnew (50 receptions) and seniors Wes Kemp (29 receptions) and Jerrel Jackson (17 receptions), who combined for 36 starts.
"It's hard to beat those guys out because they do all the right things," offensive coordinator David Yost said.
While most of the talk concerning Missouri's receivers has revolved around inexperience and numbers, Yost and Co. are excited about what this group can do.
Yost said both received more time as the season went on because of how explosive they were (Lucas has been clocked running a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash). Both ended the year averaging 18 yards per catch.
Washington was banged up this spring, but Lucas said he took full advantage of his time on the field. With more reps, Lucas said he shook the laziness that hurt him last year. His jogging and trudging around the field turned into sprints, his head stopped swimming and he finally learned how to finish plays after getting more comfortable in Missouri's offense.
"It comes with confidence, really," said Lucas, who caught four passes for 81 yards in Missouri's spring game. "When you don't really know exactly [what's going on] and you're guessing on what your exact assignment is it slows you down. Whenever you're out there just playing, you can play at your top-end speed."
Players like Bud Sasser, who worked at the Y position/tight end position, Gahn McGaffie and Jimmie Hunt, who caught an 88-yard touchdown in the spring game, all impressed this spring. So did tight end Eric Waters, who will now take over for Egnew, before he went down with an MCL injury that required surgery. Coach Gary Pinkel said Waters, who has two career catches, will be a key cog in the offense and should be back up to speed in three months.
Upperclassmen Rolandis Woodland, Jaleel Clark and Kerwin Stricker should also contribute more this fall and much ballyhooed recruit Dorial Green-Beckham, known around the program as "the big guy," will be on campus this summer.
"We're in pretty good shape," Pinkel said.
Before spring practice, 7-on-7 sessions helped build receiver chemistry, but what really brought this group together was not having quarterback James Franklin healthy this spring. After being sidelined with a shoulder injury, the receivers were forced to work with backups Corbin Berkstresser, Alex Demczak and Ashton Glaser.
Lucas said it was tough building chemistry with the other quarterbacks at first, but it forced the receivers to be more vocal in film sessions and in the huddle with the QBs
It also helped the receivers learn to take on more responsibility in the offense. They felt as though they were the voices this spring, and Lucas said that will be more beneficial for this group than in past seasons.
"We just want to be dominant," he said.
"We're kind of like the motor for [the offense]. We run the pace out there. If the wideouts are having a good day, it feels like the offense is having a good day."
Led by seven takeaways, Missouri's defense won the scrimmage 19-7. Sophomore defensive end Kony Ealy forced two fumbles, recovering one, broke up two passes and registered a quarterback hurry. Junior linebacker Andrew Wilson also recorded an interception and recovered a fumble. Sophomore cornerback Xavier Smith and redshirt freshman corner Ernest Payton each grabbed an interception as well.
While the defense dominated Saturday's session, the offense was without a number of key players, including starting quarterback James Franklin, who is dealing with a shoulder injury, left tackle Elvis Fisher (knee), running back Henry Josey (knee), and wide receiver L'Damian Washington (hamstring).
That didn't stop the offense from getting a couple of scores, though. Junior quarterback Ashton Glaser recorded the first score of the day when he connected with senior receiver Rolandis Woodland on a fade in traffic for a 6-yard touchdown pass. Senior running back Kendial Lawrence came up with the second score with a 19-yard run. Lawrence finished the day with 12 rushes for a team-best 61 yards.
Senior Gahn McGaffie led all receivers with eight catches and 75 receiving yards, while senior T.J. Moe had five catches for 54 yards.
With Franklin out, redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser got the start and completed 10 of 25 passes for 105 yards. Berkstresser didn't turn the ball over and closed the day when he led the No. 1 offense down field against the No. 1 nickel defense for a field goal in two-minute drill work. He capped the drive with a nice 24-yard scramble to get out of bounds with less than 5 seconds left. That play set up Trey Barrow for a 33-yard field goal to close the series.
You can check out the scrimmage stats on Missouri's official website.
Florida also went through its first practice weekend. Michael DiRocco of ESPN's GatorNation has a slew of info on the Gators' first practice in pads.
One thing that sticks out in DiRocco's observation is that the quarterbacks didn't have much success throwing the ball downfield.
"[Jeff] Driskel, Jacoby Brissett and [Tyler] Murphy had a lot of success completing passes in the 10- to 15-yard range, but were unable to get the ball down the field. Each quarterback did complete deep balls over the two days, but it was rare to see any completions of 20 or more yards that weren't sideline or seam patters. No deep ins or outs. It's understandable that they would struggle, though, because it is only the first week of practice, and the Gators' secondary is pretty good."
Obviously, that will come with more practice, but it's something to keep an eye on as the Gators progress through the spring.
Vanderbilt also went through its first weekend of spring practice. Coach James Franklin praised his players for the energy and attitude they brought to Friday's opening practice.
"I thought our energy was much better," Franklin said. "I think we’re obviously in much better shape. We had a hard time practicing like that last year. We’ve come a long way. I still have much higher expectations and I think our guys do, too. For the first day, I thought it was pretty good."
After a lengthy 11-on-11 team drill, Franklin ended practice with a series of competitive 1-on-1 tire pulls.
With depth issues at running back, wide receiver Wesley Tate got work out of the backfield Friday. He started off his career as a running back at Vandy, and will continue to work there throughout the spring.
Three quarterbacks also took snaps for the Commodores, as last year's starter Jordan Rodgers, Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels and early enrollee Patton Robinette all shared reps. This is expected to be an intense battle for the Commodores this spring and will receive a ton of attention from Franklin.
"The area I talked to the guys about after practice is we have to do a better job throwing the ball during competitive periods," he said. "That’s something we have to talk to them about in the offseason. I don’t think we’re doing a very good job of that."
Schedule: Missouri opens practice Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. ET and concludes the spring with its Black & Gold Spring Game on April 14 at 2 p.m. ET. The Tigers will hold scrimmages on March 17 at 10 a.m. ET and April 7 at 10 a.m. ET.
What's new: Well, Missouri will train this spring for its first season in the SEC. The Tigers left the Big 12 last fall and will officially join their new conference at July 1. The Big 12 logo is no longer at Missouri's football facility and there shouldn't be any shortage of SEC gear floating around the Tigers' practice field this spring. There will no doubt be some changes to how the Tigers operate in practice and in the weight room as they get ready for their new conference foes.On the mend: The Tigers enter the spring with a handful of names on the injured list. The biggest name, of course, is running back Henry Josey, who is still recovering from that devastating knee injury he suffered last season. Josey is supposed to undergo another surgery this spring, so he won't be available to practice and no one is sure if he'll be back this fall, either. Defensive end Brad Madison and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson are both rehabbing from shoulder surgery and are expected to miss most of spring practice. Defensive tackle Marvin Foster is out for the spring after tearing his ACL during offseason conditioning. The offensive line is also banged up, as Anthony Gatti is recovering from ACL surgery, while Mark Hill is coming off of a procedure to repair a blood clot. Lineman Connor McGovern is also recovering from surgery.
Question marks: Missouri's offensive and defensive lines both lost three starters from 2011. That's six starting linemen gone on a team making the move to a true line-of-scrimmage league. The offensive line will be banged up this spring, but a positive is that four returning linemen have starting experience. There's a chance that Missouri will have just one first-year starter up front this fall (left guard Mitch Morse). Still, replacing three quality starters on a solid line will be tough. Defensively, Missouri is very thin at defensive tackle. Richardson is recovering from surgery, so the Tigers will throw out four tackles with six combined starts -- all coming from senior Jimmy Burge, who saw his production dip in 2011. Madison is also recovering from surgery at defensive end, but that position is in better shape, as Brayden Burnett, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam have played in 63 combined games.
Key battle: The Tigers said goodbye to three starting pass catchers from 2011, meaning this area of the team should be intense to watch this spring. Most notably, tight end Michael Egnew is gone. T.J. Moe returns as the Tigers' leading receiver, while the coaches are hoping for big things from Marcus Lucas, but after that there are a lot of questions. There are bodies to throw out there, but there isn't a ton of past production to go with those bodies. Outside of Moe and Lucas, Missouri's returning receiving threats have combined for 51 catches for 712 yards and five touchdowns in their careers. L'Damian Washington should continue to be used as a deep threat with Lucas, while Eric Waters should replace Egnew at tight end. Keep an eye on upperclassmen Jaleel Clark, Gahn McGaffie, Kerwin Stricker and Rolandis Woodland, who could challenge for time this spring as well. All of these players should be working extra hard before top recruit Dorial Green-Beckham arrives this summer.
Don't forget about: Missouri might be thin up front defensively, but the linebacker spot is loaded. Starters Andrew Wilson, who led the Tigers with 98 tackles in 2011, and Zaviar Gooden, who was third in tackles last year, are both back. The Tigers also return Will Ebner, who was granted a fifth year. Those three have combined for 484 career tackles. Redshirt junior Donovan Bonner should be Missouri's top reserve with his ability to play all three linebacker positions. Redshirt sophomore Darvin Ruise played mostly special teams, but should get more reps at linebacker this spring.
Breaking out: Lucas didn't haul in a ton of catches last season, but he showed that he can be that big-play wide receiver Missouri is searching for. He caught 23 passes for 414 yards and five touchdowns. That's an average of 18 yards per catch. He should receive more reps this spring and should improve on his 2011 numbers. He will likely play on the outside for the Tigers and will likely be Missouri's top deep threat this spring.
All eyes on: As Missouri prepares to make the transition to face SEC defenses week in and week out, quarterback James Franklin will receive even more attention. He had a true breakout season in 2011, passing for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns, while adding 981 rushing yards and 15 more scores. But he and his coaches will have to make some adjustments to the offense in order to combat the SEC speed they'll see this fall. Franklin enters the year as one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC, but in order to build off of his 2011 season, he'll have to improve on some parts of his game, including accuracy and his downfield passing. There's even more pressure on Franklin with Josey out and with questions still surrounding the receiving corps. Franklin has all the talent to succeed in the SEC, but you have to believe that tweaks need to be made to Missouri's offense to help him along the way.