SEC: Jimmy Burge
2011 conference record: 5-4
Offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2
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
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)
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.
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.
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.