SEC: Jayson Palmgren

Missouri spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
8:30
AM ET
2011 record: 8-5
2011 conference record: 5-4

Returning starters

Offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

OT Elvis Fisher, RB Henry Josey (injured), QB James Franklin, OT Justin Britt, WR T.J. Moe, DE Brad Madison, LB Andrew Wilson, CB E.J. Gaines, CB Kip Edwards, LB Will Ebner, LB Zaviar Gooden

Key losses

OG Austin Wuebbels, OT Dan Hoch, OG Jayson Palmgren, TE Michael Egnew, WR Wes Kemp, NG Dominique Hamilton, DE Jacquies Smith, S Kenji Jackson, LB Luke Lambert

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Henry Josey* (1,168 Yards)
Passing: James Franklin* (2,865 yards)
Receiving: T.J. Moe* (649 yards)
Tackles: Andrew Wilson* (98)
Sacks: Jacquies Smith (5)
Interceptions: Kenji Jackson (3)

Spring answers

1. Lucas' development: Missouri entered the spring looking for a downfield receiving threat at wide receiver and left feeling much better about the situation. T.J. Moe returns as the most productive receiver, but he's not a deep-play threat. The coaches are hoping Marcus Lucas can be that guy. He had a very solid spring in Columbia and was much more consistent in practices. He got over some of his lazy tendencies and showed off more explosiveness in Missouri's vertical passing game. With L'Damian Washington banged up, Lucas took full advantage of getting more reps.

2. Running back depth: Kendial Lawrence picked up where he left off last season. With Henry Josey's status still doubtful for the fall, Lawrence is the unquestioned leader of the group. Behind him, offensive coordinator David Yost was impressed by redshirt sophomore Marcus Murphy, who missed 2011 with a shoulder injury. Murphy showed the big-play ability that the coaches coveted his freshman year. The big Jared McGriff-Culver will be used at running back, a blocker and an H-back, while redshirt sophomore Greg White showed a lot of improvement this spring and is in line for carries this fall.

3. Mizzou's confidence: All this SEC talk is getting to Missouri. It's not that the Tigers aren't excited about their move. They're just tired of hearing about how tough it will be, and they're tired of answering adjustment questions. Yost and his players made it clear that the offense isn't changing a whole lot to their spread attack. That's what this team wants and it doesn't matter what others think. Gary Pinkel is the eighth-winningest active coach in the FBS, with his 158 wins, so he knows how to win. He's done plenty of it at Mizzou and intends to continue that in the SEC. He and his players know it won't be easy, but they have the right attitude and confidence entering the league's toughest football conference.

Fall questions

1. Defensive tackle: The depth at defensive tackle is a concern for the Tigers entering the summer, as Missouri is looking to replace both starters up front. With Sheldon Richardson rehabbing from shoulder surgery this spring and Marvin Foster, who was expected to be No. 2 at defensive tackle, tearing his ACL before spring, Missouri entered the spring with four tackles having six combined starts. All of them are from rising senior Jimmy Burge. Strides were made by Lucas Vincent, and former tight end-turned-tackle Matt Hoch, but there's no doubt that coaches are worried about depth.

2. Offensive line: Missouri's coaches insist there is more experience than meets the eye on the offensive line, but with Anthony Gatti, Mark Hill and Connor McGovern banged up, the offensive line had holes to work around this spring. Sixth-year senior Elvis Fisher will be back, but even he was limited this spring as he recovered from the knee injury he suffered last offseason. When this unit is healthy, there is experience to be found, but Mizzou still has to replace three quality linemen and there's also that issue of being a much lighter unit than most lines in the league.

3. Size: Both of Missouri's lines are lacking in the size department, but it doesn't look like the coaches are ready to change that anytime soon. Yost said he's happy with an offensive line that averages roughly 295 pounds. The defensive line comes in at about 262 pounds as well. While SEC linemen get a lot of credit for their athleticism, they also pack a little more girth than what Mizzou has. The coaches say it won't be a problem, and they say players will combat size with strength, making offseason workouts even more critical. This is something to monitor on as the season progresses. If these lines wear down it will be a long first year for the Tigers.
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- I made it out to the new Columbia to check out the new Tigers in the SEC Tuesday. It was my first time visiting the city and school and it was the first time I had ever spoken to coach Gary Pinkel.

Immediately, I could tell that he wasn't afraid of his new surroundings. Not one bit. He's been at Missouri for 11 seasons and after some thought he'd be run out of Columbia before he even figured out where his office was he'll enter the 2012 season with 85 wins at Missouri. He's also taken the Tigers to seven straight bowl games.

[+] EnlargeGary Pinkel
Dak DillonGary Pinkel has led the Tigers to double-digit wins in three of the past five seasons.
So when the coach with 21 years of head-coaching experience was asked about adjusting to the SEC, it was no surprise that he didn't budge much. He gives the SEC a ton of respect, but thinks his team can earn some with the move.

"It's hard to argue with anybody and say the SEC's not the best league in the country, consistently," Pinkel said. "There's no argument.

"I understand we're going into a great league this year, but we go in with some credibility and some success."

The Tigers have reached double-digit wins in three of their past five seasons, so there's no doubt this team will get some respect, but earning it means adjusting to life in a league that lives and dies by line play. That's where things might get a little tricky for the Tigers.

Missouri has to replace six linemen on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Missouri has been without defensive linemen Brad Madison and Sheldon Richardson this spring due to injuries. It hurts because both are expected to contribute a lot this fall, but it has helped get younger players more reps, especially end Kony Ealy who should give Madison a real run for his spot when the senior-to-be returns.

On the offensive line, the Tigers were fortunate to get wise, old Elvis Fisher is back after he was granted a sixth year by the NCAA, following a devastating knee injury that end his 2011 season during fall camp. They also return a group of players that might not have started every game, but got good game experience last year.

To the coaches, the Tigers aren't exactly losing three starters on the offensive line. Offensive coordinator David Yost acknowledges that Jayson Palmgren, Austin Wuebbels and Dan Hoch are all gone, but he also considers guard Jack Meiners a starter from last year and Fisher is considered a returning starter as well. It also helps that Justin Britt started at left tackle last year, essentially giving Missouri two left tackles and containing the edges on this year's line. That's big because Missouri doesn't use an attached tight end much.

Speaking of tight end, Eric Waters, who is replacing All-American Michael Egnew, underwent surgery to repair a torn MCL in his knee Tuesday and Pinkel said he's out for three months. He should be ready for the season opener.

As for tweaking the offense and making sure Missouri is fit to run its true spread in the SEC, the players and coaches aren't worried. In fact, they're pretty confident in their scheme and they're not changing from being a true spread team.

"Until you play us, it's different than what other people do and how they do it," Yost said. "We have our system, and we're going to stick with it. Their challenge is to do what they do and have their stuff mesh to what we do."

The Tigers will have to have a balanced attack like they did last year.They'll have quarterback James Franklin back for the opener and think he'll help guide their group of unproven wide receivers. Missouri can also go four or five deep at running back, even without Henry Josey, who likely won't see the field this fall following that devastating knee injury.

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