SEC: Matt Hoch


Since Gary Pinkel arrived at Missouri in 2000, he’s had six first-team all-conference selections on the defensive line. Four of those players went on to be first-round NFL draft picks, and there are currently eight former Tigers defensive linemen playing in the NFL.

“There’s two things I’ve been fortunate with most of my career,” Pinkel said last month. “Having good quarterbacks and having guys on defense that can get the other guys’ good quarterbacks.”

Getting to opponents’ quarterbacks has never been a problem for Missouri under Pinkel. Last year, the Tigers led the SEC with 41 sacks, which marked the seventh time in the past nine seasons that they finished with 30 or more sacks as a team. Michael Sam (12) and Kony Ealy (9) were both among the conference leaders in sacks, but they have moved on to greener pastures and will be playing their football on Sundays this fall.

[+] EnlargeShane Ray
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonShane Ray has proven the ability to get to opposing quarterbacks. Just ask Johnny Manziel.
That leaves a rather large void at defensive end. A dilemma for most schools, sure, but not at Missouri. Not where strong, fast, 6-foot-3 defensive linemen seem to grow on trees. Not where Markus Golden and Shane Ray are patiently waiting for their chance to shine.

How good are Golden and Ray? There were NFL scouts who came to Missouri last season to see Ealy and Sam, but left wondering if the two behind them weren’t better.

Golden, specifically, might have been the Tigers' most productive defensive lineman last year. Despite playing only about 40 percent of the snaps, he still led all ends with 55 tackles. He also had 13 tackles for loss and six sacks.

“Really, we were just competitive,” Golden said. “When you got a bunch of good players in one room, good defensive linemen in one room, we compete against each other.

“That’s what it was with Kony and Mike. It wasn’t like they were trying to teach me something -- they knew I knew what to do -- it was just like we’re going to all compete against each other and see who does the best.”

Now it’s Golden’s turn to take center stage. It’s Ray’s turn to start opposite him. Missouri might have lost a pair of elite defensive ends from last season, but that doesn’t mean the defensive line is going to take a step back. In fact, it might take a step forward.

Just ask Missouri center Evan Boehm, who goes against that group every day in practice.

“Oh, my,” he said. “As an offensive line, we’ve gone against the majority of the defensive lines in the SEC, and we firmly believe that we have one of the best in the conference, if not the nation.

“Going against guys like Markus, like Shane, like Matt Hoch, Lucas Vincent, Josh Augusta, Harold Brantley -- you’re just swapping guys out each and every time, but they’re not skipping a beat. And when they’re doing that, we’re just getting more work each and every time. We’re getting better each and every time. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to go against the best, and I think we’re doing that.”

At SEC media days, Pinkel was already talking up Marcus Loud and Charles Harris, the next crop of redshirt freshmen defensive ends who have a chance to be special once Golden and Ray are gone. And after those two, there will be two more to follow. It's why some people have started calling Missouri "Defensive Line U."

“A lot of people try to call us that,” Golden said. “But we call it ‘D-line Zou.’ I say that because we look at it as we’re Tigers, and we say we’re a bunch of animals, a bunch of animals on that defensive line, a bunch of guys that just play hard and physical.”

This year’s version of "D-line Zou" will be critical if the Tigers want to make it back to Atlanta for the SEC championship game.

Missouri Tigers season preview

August, 14, 2014
8/14/14
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Missouri Tigers:

2013 record: 12-2 (7-1 SEC), beat Oklahoma State 41-31 in the AT&T Cotton Bowl

Final grade for 2013 season: In their second season in the SEC, the Tigers were one of the league's biggest surprises.

Key losses: QB James Franklin, WR Dorial Green-Beckham (dismissed), WR L'Damian Washington, WR Marcus Lucas, RB Henry Josey, OT Justin Britt, G Max Copeland, DE Michael Sam, DE Kony Ealy, LB Donovan Bonner, CB E.J. Gaines

[+] EnlargeMarkus Golden
Scott Kane/Icon SMIMissouri's defense will be more improved with the return of DE Markus Golden for the 2014 season.
Key returnees: QB Maty Mauk, C Evan Boehm, OT Mitch Morse, OT Connor McGovern, RB Russell Hansbrough, WR Jimmie Hunt, WR Bud Sasser, DT Matt Hoch, DT Lucas Vincent, LB Kentrell Brothers, S Braylon Webb

Projected 2014 starters: QB Mauk, RB Hansbrough, WR Sasser, WR Hunt, WR Darius White, TE Sean Culkin, LT Morse, LG Anthony Gatti, C Boehm, RG Mitch L. Hall, RT McGovern, DE Markus Golden, DT Hoch, DT Vincent, DE Shane Ray, LB Donavin Newsom, LB Brothers, LB Michael Scherer, CB Aarion Penton, CB John Gibson, S Webb, S Ian Simon

Instant impact newcomers: CB Kenya Dennis (juco), WR DeSean Blair, WR Lawrence Lee

Breakout player: With the caveat that they aren't yet star players, it would be understandable to look at Mauk and Golden, two very talented first-time starters. Mauk is something of a dark horse Heisman Trophy contender, while Golden wreaked havoc with 6.5 sacks last season despite playing just 40 percent of MU's snaps. But the true breakout Tiger is White, the Texas Longhorns transfer who was once the No. 3-rated wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2010. White's numbers in his first season for Mizzou weren't too impressive (seven catches, 76 yards and a TD), but there wasn't much opportunity behind the established starters. That situation changes drastically in 2014, as the Tigers need White to explode out of the gate and be the weapon everyone expected he would be in college.

Most important game: The Tigers lost just one regular-season game, and it took double overtime for South Carolina to score the win at Faurot Field. This season, Missouri will look to return the favor in Columbia, South Carolina, and the stakes could be just as high for two of the better teams in the SEC East. After four nonconference games to start the season, Mizzou kicks off its league schedule with a chance to make a profound statement that 2013 was no fluke.

Biggest question mark: There's reason for concern in the secondary, where the Tigers must replace two departed starters at cornerback. But there's no escaping the glaring holes at wide receiver after MU lost its top three pass-catchers from 2013. Washington and Lucas were seniors. The Tigers were prepared to replace those two. But kicking Green-Beckham off the team -- although necessary -- significantly altered this season's forecast. DGB was the kind of star who commanded the attention of every defensive game plan. Missouri's top returning receivers, Sasser and Hunt, have thus far only contributed in limited roles. Can they step in and fill the void?

Upset special: Missouri will play three teams that are currently ranked in the coaches' poll -- South Carolina, Georgia and Texas A&M. The Gamecocks could be the class of the East Division. The Aggies are expected to improve by leaps and bounds by mid-November. Both of those contests are in enemy territory, which means the Tigers' best chance of scoring an upset could be against Georgia in Columbia, Missouri. Regardless of whether MU can pull off a win against the Bulldogs, there are bound to be a lot of points on the board. Both teams have a lot of firepower on offense and questions in the secondary.

They said it: "[Mauk] is a very natural leader. I knew that when he was in high school. He was one of those guys that he loves to play football, loves to compete. I think he's a dual-threat guy. He can run. He's got very good speed. Puts a lot of pressure on the defense utilizing both of those things. ... He's got a great work ethic. He's a winner. Players know it. He's a remarkable competitor. They know it. They respect the way he leads because he leads in a very, very positive way. We're very fortunate to have a young player like him. That's why he did so well last year when we threw him in there as a freshman." -- Gary Pinkel at SEC media days

Preseason predictions

ESPN Stats & Information: 6.97 wins

Bovada over-under: 7.5 wins

Our take: Stats and odds are certainly helpful tools when it comes to making predictions, but so is basic football knowledge. Missouri's strength is unquestionably on both lines, which is where games are won. The Tigers have a big, strong offensive line with plenty of experience (a combined 72 starts). Give Mauk time to throw, and he'll have a good chance to be productive even with a developing receiving corps. On the defensive line, Missouri had the league's top pass rush in 2013 and shouldn't miss a beat this fall. And then there's the schedule. It's very manageable. Missouri expects to survive its nonconference slate before facing eight consecutive SEC foes. The Tigers start that run with South Carolina, Georgia and Florida -- the perceived top threats in the SEC East. By the end of October, the division race could be a muddy mess but it's likely Missouri will be in the thick of it with a chance to go back to Atlanta for a second shot at the SEC title.

Ranking the SEC defensive tackles

June, 16, 2014
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We ranked the top defensive line units in the SEC earlier on Monday.

We take it a step further now and rank the top 10 tackles or interior linemen in the league heading into the 2014 season. Notice a trend with the top four?

[+] EnlargeA'Shawn Robinson
AP Photo/Butch DillA'Shawn Robinson led Alabama in sacks in 2013 as a true freshman.
1. A'Shawn Robinson, So., Alabama: The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Robinson led Alabama with 5.5 sacks last season as a true freshman and has barely scratched the surface of how good he can be. An end in the Tide's base 3-4 defense, he moves inside to tackle when they go to four down linemen. Those in and around the Alabama program will tell you that he's on track to be the best defensive lineman the Tide have had under Nick Saban.

2. Chris Jones, So., Mississippi State: A year ago as a true freshman, the 6-5, 300-pound Jones played on sheer talent and was still a disruptive force. He led the Bulldogs with 10 quarterback hurries to go along with three sacks. He's now more technically sound, and with his "freaky" talent is primed for a huge sophomore season. He says he's still an end at heart and might line up there in certain situations.

3. Robert Nkemdiche, So., Ole Miss: The consensus No. 1 high school prospect in the country last year, Nkemdiche started the season at end and then moved inside to tackle. He finished third on the team with eight tackles for loss despite missing two games with a strained hamstring. At 6-4 and 277 pounds, Nkemdiche is big enough and explosive enough to be a dynamic playmaker no matter where he lines up.

4. Montravius Adams, So., Auburn: Because of injuries, the 6-4, 305-pound Adams worked at end this spring and was hard to miss with all the big plays he made. He has exceptional speed and quickness for such a big guy and is exactly what you're looking for in a defensive lineman in this league. He's another one who could line up at a couple of different spots this fall and will give the Tigers a lot of options up front.

5. J.T. Surratt, R-Sr., South Carolina: Jadeveon Clowney received all the fanfare last season, and Kelcy Quarles put up the big numbers. But don't sleep on Surratt, who's extremely underrated and heads up a deep group of defensive tackles for the Gamecocks. The 6-2, 305-pound Surratt is eager to prove that he's one of the league's premier interior defensive linemen in his own right.

6. Gabe Wright, Sr., Auburn: One of three senior tackles returning for the Tigers, Wright shed 12 pounds this spring and worked some at end. He led all Auburn defensive tackles last season with 8.5 tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries. Wright has the experience, athleticism and talent to have an All-SEC season and gives defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson some flexibility along the defensive front.

7. Darius Philon, R-So., Arkansas: Once committed to Alabama, the 6-3, 283-pound Philon emerged as the Hogs' most active defensive tackle last season as a redshirt freshman. He led all Arkansas interior linemen with 46 total tackles, including nine tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. He admits that he needed that first year on campus to mature, but is now primed to achieve elite status in this league.

8. Issac Gross, Jr., Ole Miss: Size isn't everything at tackle. The 250-pound Gross proved that last season. He consistently went up against bigger guards and centers on the offensive line and used his quickness to lead the Rebels with 3.5 sacks and was second on the team with nice tackles for loss. Gross started four games at nose tackle last season.

9. Matt Hoch, R-Sr., Missouri: Overshadowed by Michael Sam and Kony Ealy last season on the Tigers' defensive front, the 6-5, 295-pound Hoch quietly went about his business and had his best season, with a career-best 41 total tackles. He has 25 career starts to his credit and is one of those players who just finds a way to get to the ball. He has been equally superb in the classroom.

10. Leon Orr, R-Sr., Florida: The Gators are lacking depth in the middle of their defensive line and will lean heavily on the 6-5, 305-pound Orr, who had 4.5 tackles for loss a year ago in his first season as a starter. He has played in the shadows of a couple of NFL first-round draft choices (Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley), so this is his chance to anchor the interior of that unit.

Missouri spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Missouri Tigers:

1. No questions at QB: Maty Mauk made quick work of his competition and left no doubt that he was both the Tigers' starting quarterback and their most vocal leader. The redshirt sophomore brings more flair to Mizzou's offense than predecessor James Franklin, as Mauk will take more risks with his arm and legs.

2. There's depth at WR: Even without dismissed star Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri has talent at receiver. Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt say they're ready to take over now that the Tigers have lost their top three wideouts. The seniors, who have 73 career receptions combined, must become more than role players. Levi Copelin and Darius White will battle for the other starting spot.

3. Strong up front: The defensive line was healthy, strong and effective in 2013, and Missouri is expecting little drop-off this fall. Pass-rushing defensive ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam are gone, but Markus Golden and Shane Ray put up good numbers as reserves. Starting tackles Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent return and bring stability.

Three questions for the fall:

1. CB play: Who replaces E.J. Gaines and Randy Ponder at cornerback? An inexperienced secondary is an overall concern, but the presence of sophomore CB Aarion Penton, who had a standout freshman season, gives the Tigers a lot of confidence. Sophomore John Gibson beat out several contenders for the other starting cornerback spot in spring practice.

2. Reshuffling on OL: Will Mizzou have another stalwart offensive line? The Tigers lost two starters from one of the SEC's best units, forcing some reshuffling. Evan Boehm is the anchor in his second year at center. LT Mitch Morse, RT Connor McGovern, LG Anthony Gatti and RG Mitch Hall bring lots of size and experience.

3. Banged-up LBs: Will the linebackers hold up? Longtime starters Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner are gone, returning junior Kentrell Brothers had surgery on a torn labrum in March, and sophomore Donavin Newsom had the same surgery just before the spring game. There's a lot of pressure on sophomore Michael Scherer and senior Darvin Ruise.

One way-too-early prediction:

Missouri had a breakthrough season in 2013, going 12-2 and finishing with the No. 5 ranking in the country. This fall, the Tigers will prove they were no fluke and repeat as SEC East champs thanks to a handful of impact players, some great coaching and a very manageable schedule.
Recently, Michael Sam let members of the media in on a little secret behind Missouri's impressive season along the defensive line in 2013: They felt disrespected.

"Everybody thought our D-line was doomed because Sheldon Richardson was gone," Sam told reporters during Senior Bowl practices. "I kind of took that as disrespectful."

After 2012's unsatisfactory 5-7 SEC debut, on the outside it looked like the Tigers could be in more trouble in 2013 with Richardson, a first-round NFL draft pick, gone. What was left was a lot of potential but no proven playmakers.

[+] EnlargeMissouri Tigers
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesMarkus Golden, right, and the rest of the Missouri defensive line had plenty of reasons to celebrate in 2013. With Michael Sam and Kony Ealy gone, Golden could be the star of the show this fall.
Then the actual football started, and the Tigers were a menace up front, leading the SEC with 41 sacks and 107 tackles for loss during their fantastic SEC Year 2 turnaround. Sam, who was one of the nation's biggest surprises, led the SEC with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Fellow linemen Kony Ealy and Markus Golden combined for 14.5 more sacks and 27 tackles for loss.

That was a ton of production from arguably the SEC's best defensive line. Now, most of it is gone, as Sam graduated and Ealy declared for the NFL draft. But Tigers fans certainly shouldn't fret -- Missouri still has a lot of talent to work with in the trenches in 2014.

It starts with Golden, who didn't get as much love as Sam or Ealy but still managed to record 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss this past season. He has the makings of being a star in the SEC this fall. It was a bit of a surprise to even see him stay, which is a huge win for the Tigers but a loss for the rest of the league. You should be hearing his name a lot this fall.

And you can't double-team him, either. Not with the soon-to-be-not-so-unknown Shane Ray, who collected 4.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss last season, coming back at the other end position. He was also second on the team behind Ealy with 11 quarterback hurries. Yep, that was even better than Sam.

Ray, who will be a junior this fall, was a solid reserve for Mizzou last season and flashed signs of being a real handful for offensive linemen to handle. He went five straight games at one point during the season with being a part of a sack and has the chance at a nice breakout season in 2014.

Inside, Mizzou still has Matt Hoch, Harold Brantley and Lucas Vincent. All of these guys have what it takes to clog the middle yet again, and all of them have seen a good amount of time on the field. Brantley, who was a redshirt freshman last fall, could be someone to really keep an eye on going forward. He added around 20 pounds last year to get strong inside yet showed his athleticism and speed on a nifty 26-yard run on a fake punt against Ole Miss. Hoch is an underrated player who somehow figures out how to find the ball on plays, while Vincent has played in every game of his three-year career. Hoch and Vincent combined for 64 tackles, including 10 for loss, last year.

So while the Tigers will no doubt miss Sam and Ealy, they'll be just fine in 2014 with the players returning. This school has churned out defensive line studs in the past, thanks to the developmental skills of defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski. With his track record, it appears he knows exactly what he's doing up front. Expect that to continue this fall.


ATLANTA -- Behind a monster running game headed by Tre Mason and Nick Marshall, No. 3 Auburn (12-1, 7-1 SEC) claimed the SEC title with a back-and-forth 59-42 win over No. 5 Missouri (11-2, 7-1) in what was the highest-scoring SEC championship.

The teams combined for 1,211 yards of offense. Auburn rushed for a season-high 545 yards. Mason, who vaulted his name into the Heisman Trophy discussion, rushed for a career-high 304 yards and four touchdowns on a career-high 46 carries. Mason's yards and carries were records for the SEC championship game.

With the win, Auburn has clinched a spot in a BCS bowl and is still in contention for a spot in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game.

It was over when: Missouri quarterback James Franklin's pass to receiver Dorial Green-Beckham fell incomplete on fourth-and-goal from Auburn's 7-yard line with 1:46 remaining.

Game ball goes to: Mason broke LSU running back Justin Vincent's SEC title-game record of 201 yards set in 2003. Mason finished the day averaging 6.6 yards per rush.

Stat of the game: Auburn averaged 8 yards per play on a Missouri defense that entered the game allowing 5.1 yards per play and 385 yards per game. Auburn also ran for 545 yards on a defense that was allowing only 119 rushing yards per game.

Stat of the game II: Defensive end Kony Ealy's forced fumble that was recovered by defensive tackle Matt Hoch in the first quarter extended Missouri's takeaway streak to 43 straight games.

What it means for Auburn: The Tigers won the SEC for the first time since 2010 and will now await their BCS bowl fate. A loss by either Florida State or Ohio State would send the Tigers, who won just three games a year ago, to the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game.

What it means for Missouri: A special season ends with a No. 2 finish in the SEC. Not bad for a team that won five games in its debut season in the SEC last year. These Tigers are likely out of the mix for a BCS bowl, but with 11 wins, they could be headed to the AT&T Cotton Bowl or Capital One Bowl.
The SEC prides itself on having all that talent in the trenches, and the defensive lines in this league just continue set this conference apart from everyone else. Here's how all 14 lines rank in the SEC heading into the 2013 season:

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsThe whole nation may be familiar with Jadeveon Clowney, but there's even more power on the South Carolina defensive line.
1. South Carolina: There's more to South Carolina's defensive front than man-beast Jadeveon Clowney. While his 21 career sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss are great, he gets good help from a solid helping of depth, beginning with starters Kelcy Quarles (defensive tackle) and Chaz Sutton (end). Quarles might be one of the most underrated linemen around and should improve on his 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss from last year. Sutton was a backup last year, but still registered five sacks and seven tackles for loss. Tackle J.T. Surratt saw action in just 10 games last year, but moves into a starting role this year. Gerald Dixon and Gerald Dixon Jr. provide good depth at tackle and end.

2. Florida: Sure, the Gators lost All-American Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter, but Florida rotated enough guys in last year to have good experience coming back across the board. Star lineman Dominique Easley will play at his more natural position at tackle this year, but will move outside at times. He led Florida with four sacks last year and was consistently disruptive all year. Florida is loaded at end with sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard returning. Ronald Powell, who is coming off of two ACL injuries will rotate with Fowler at the hybrid linebacker/end "Buck" position, while Damien Jacobs and Darious Cummings will help out at tackle.

3. Arkansas: While Arkansas featured one of the league's worst defenses last year, the Razorbacks were solid up front. Arkansas returns one of the best defensive end combos in senior Chris Smith and junior Trey Flowers. They combined for 15.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss last year. Inside, you have seniors Byran Jones and Robert Thomas. Jones has started 29 games in his career and had 52 tackles last year. Thomas steps into a starting role this fall after recording five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last year. The Hogs have young reserves, the staff is excited about guys like JaMichael Winston, Brandon Lewis, Darius Philon, DeMarcus Hodge and Deatrich Wise Jr.

4. LSU: The Tigers lost a lot up front, but this team is used to reloading along the defensive line. Tackle Anthony Johnson has the meat and ability to be one of the best at his position, and excels as both a run-stopper and pass-rusher. He'll be helped by junior Ego Ferguson, who has all the talent to be successful but is still looking to reach his full potential. The staff is expecting big things from end Jermauria Rasco, who might be a better pure pass-rusher than Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery before him. Danielle Hunter and Jordan Allen should do more at end, while incoming freshman Tashawn Bower could see immediate playing time. Also, keep an eye on freshman Christian LaCouture, who played his way into the two-deep this spring at tackle.

5. Ole Miss: There are depth issues at defensive tackle, but the Rebels are stacked on the outside. C.J. Johnson should be back from the broken leg he suffered this spring, and has All-SEC talent at end. Fellow end Cameron Whigham only had 1.5 sacks last year, but started 11 games. Channing Ward got a lot of action this spring with Johnson out and has the chance to have a true breakout season. All eyes will be on freshman Robert Nkemdiche, who was the No. 1 recruit in the 2013 recruiting class and is physically ready to play right now. Tackle Issac Gross should be healed from his spring grown injury and will get good help from junior college transfer Lavon Hooks.

6. Alabama: Right now, Alabama is still searching for the elite players it's used to having up front. This unit wasn't as consistent as Nick Saban would have wanted this spring, but there is a lot of potential in the trenches, starting with the versatile Ed Stinson, who can line up inside or out and recorded 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks last year. Jeoffrey Pagan could be fun to watch at the other end spot. He was a big-time recruit a few years ago and will get a lot more time to shine this fall. Brandon Ivory has to replace Jesse Williams at nose guard, but showed good flashes this spring. LaMichael Fanning will also help at end. Alabama is young here, but will continuously rotate again in order to keep guys fresh.

7. Vanderbilt: End Walker May is the star of this very talented group. He isn't the biggest at his position, but he's a relentless worker and is exception at getting to the quarterback on passing plays. Junior Kyle Woestmann came on very strong during the second half of the 2012 season, registering six sacks in the final five games. Then there's sophomore Caleb Azibuke, who grabbedd 4.5 sacks last year, had a great spring and is extremely athletic. With two starters departing, depth is an issue inside, but tackle Jared Morese, who started six games last year is back after being kicked off this team this spring for violating team rules. Juniors Barron Dixon and Vince Taylor both played in 13 games last year. The Commodores also had to move offensive lineman Adam Butler to defensive tackle this spring.

8. Kentucky: There is a lot of experience, starting with seniors Donte Rumph, Mister Cobble and Tristian Johnson at defensive tackle. Rumph, who is coming off of a spring shoulder injury, is the best of the bunch and recorded six tackles for loss and four sacks last year. Cobble is finally starting to reach his potential, and should improve on his three tackles for loss and two sacks from last year. Johnson started nine straight games to end last season. Alvin "Bud" Dupree has nine sacks in the last two years and is moving from linebacker to end this year. Helping him will be junior college transfer Za'Darius Smith, who had an exceptional spring. Incoming freshman end Jason Hatcher will also get a chance to play immediately.

9. Georgia: The first order of business is finding a suitable nose guard to replace the massive John Jenkins. Right now, it looks like that will happen by committee. Junior Mike Thornton left spring as the starter there, but has just one career tackle. Redshirt sophomore Chris Mayes is next in line, but hasn't recorded any stats during his career. Freshman John Atkins enrolled early this spring and junior college transfer Toby Johnson, who could be the best of them, is recovering from an ACL injury. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham cross-trained all his linemen and was very pleased with Sterling Bailey's improvement, along with senior Garrison Smith, who started eight games last year. Junior Ray Drew is also getting more comfortable up front.

10. Mississippi State: It's not like Mississippi State doesn't have the talent or potential up front, but his group really struggled to get to the quarterback last year. Senior end Denico Autry struggled through the first part of last season, but played strong down the stretch, which is really encouraging to the staff. End Preston Smith was a backup last year, but still led the Bulldogs with 4.5 sacks. The staff seems pretty excited about tackle P.J. Jones, who made some big plays late for this team last year. Of course, having vet Kaleb Eulls back helps and it looks like he's permanently moving inside. End Ryan Brown didn't blow up the stat chart last year, but had a good spring and should see plenty of playing time this fall.

11. Missouri: This unit was probably the Tigers' strongest last year, but it lost its best player in tackle Sheldon Richardson. Mizzou has to replace him by committee, and Gary Pinkel seemed pleased with his tackles this spring. Matt Hoch had a very good spring and while he isn't the same player as Richardson, he figures out ways to get to the ball and started 12 games last year. Lucas Vincent will line up at nose guard, but injuries limited him to just three tackles last year. Redshirt freshman Harold Brantley has a lot of potential at tackle and should see good time this fall. The Tigers are pretty solid outside, with Kony Ealy and Michael Sam returning. Ealy is just waiting to break out, while Sam led the team with 4.5 sacks last fall. Shane Ray provides good depth at end, while tackle Marvin Foster played in 10 games last year.

12. Tennessee: The Vols have to figure out how to move around all those pieces up front with the defense moving back to a traditional 4-3 look. Big-bodied Daniel McCullers is the top player along the line, but he has to be more disruptive up front. He has to be more than just a space eater. Senior Jacques Smith should move down to end from linebacker, while fellow seniors Marlon Walls and Daniel Hood should push for starting time at end and tackle. Senior Maurice Couch is another player with a ton of talent, but has to be more consistent inside. Junior Jordan Williams should also move down after playing a hybrid end/linebacker position last year.

13. Auburn: The Tigers just weren't good enough up front last year, ranking 11th in the SEC in sacks (22) and 12th in tackles for loss (66). Now the best player -- end Corey Lemonier -- is gone. A handful of vets return, but this group has to be tougher and more consistent. Senior ends Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae lead things up front, but only accounted for 8.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks last year. Eguae will have his hands full trying to fend off Kenneth Carter, who moved from tackle to end this spring. Jeffrey Whitaker, Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright lead the inside game, but only Blackson had more than five tackles for lass last year (a team-high seven).

14. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost quality starters like Damontre Moore and Spencer Nealy and the injury bug devastated this unit during the spring. No one will replace Moore's 21 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks, but A&M needs multiple guys to step up. Julien Obioha started 12 games as a true freshman last year, but has to stay healthy this fall, as he's the key to the entire line. He also has to generate a better pass rush. Tackle Kirby Ennis started 11 games last year, but ran into legal trouble before spring practice and was suspended, but is expected to return. Youngsters Alonzo Williams, Tyrone Taylor and Tyrell Taylor will be thrown into the mix this fall, but expect plenty of growing pains. Gavin Stansbury and Alonzo Williams have showed flashes here and there, but will have to much more consistent this fall.
It wasn't easy for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel to say goodbye to star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Not only was he Mizzou's best player last season, he was a first-round draft pick back in April.

Replacing his production won't be easy, but Pinkel understands it's going to take a committee to right things along the defensive line. And he's pretty pleased with the bodies he has there.

"Guys really stepped up (this spring)," Pinkel said. "I think we have a lot of things in place."

When it comes to the defensive tackle spot, the Tigers don't have another Richardson to work with, but there is talent inside. Junior Matt Hoch really impressed this spring, and has always been a guy with a great motor. He might not have showed up on the stat sheet as much as Richardson, but he knew how to get to and make plays last season. He continued that this spring.

Then there is redshirt freshman Harold Brantley, who came on strong as well at defensive tackle this spring. He has good size at 6-foot-3, 300 pounds and is a very athletic player. He doesn't have any college experience, but Pinkel was pretty excited about the progress Brantley made during the spring.

Lucas Vincent is another tackle to keep an eye on. He played in 12 games last season, but only recorded three tackles. He still has some room to grow up front.

What will help is having two strong ends to work with. Kony Ealy and Michael Sam both had solid seasons last year. Sam led the Tigers with 4.5 sacks, and Ealy recorded 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

Ealy could really be a special player. He's extremely athletic, and has continued to develop into a better pass-rusher. Not having Richardson there will bring more attention his way, but he should be prepared to take on more this fall.

"He did some great things last year and we're expecting him to do some great things this year," Pinkel said. "We'll just have to see where it goes."

The key for this line is that it has to be able to rotate as much as it did last season. There are bodies to do it, and it will obviously help keep guys fresh. It will also help if the offense generates more production next season, because this line wore down last year, even with its rotation, because it was on the field so much.

Pinkel certainly understands how important it is to have strength up front in the SEC. Right now, he thinks he still has some.

"It's a league where you've got to be good up front," Pinkel said. "The league we came from you had to be the same way, but the thing in is this league is there are more good teams."

Missouri Tigers spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
5/06/13
7:30
AM ET
2012 record: 5-7
2012 conference record: 2-6 (fifth, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB James Franklin, RB Henry Josey, RB/RS Marcus Murphy, WR Dorial Green-Beckham, OL Evan Boehm, DE Kony Ealy, LB Andrew Wilson, CB E.J. Gaines

Key losses

RB Kendial Lawrence, WR T.J. Moe, OT Elvis Fisher, DT Sheldon Richardson, LB Zaviar Gooden, LB Will Ebner, CB Kip Edwards

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Kendial Lawrence (1,025 yards)
Passing: James Franklin* (1,562 yards)
Receiving: Marcus Lucas* (509 yards)
Tackles: Andrew Wilson* (79)
Sacks: Michael Sam* (4.5)
Interceptions: Kip Edwards (2)

Spring answers

1. Henry’s health: After missing all of last season because of a devastating knee injury that occurred halfway through the 2011 campaign, many weren’t sure how running back Henry Josey would respond this spring. But he shed his knee brace early and craved contact from Day 1. He didn’t care if he left spring as the starter -- he just wanted to prove to himself that he was ready to play again. Coach Gary Pinkel says he ran a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash before spring, and Josey insists he's at 100 percent.

2. DGB's maturity: It sounds like last year’s top recruit is really getting it in Columbia. The offense wasn’t totally in sync this spring, but that didn’t stop Green-Beckham from making some good noise at receiver. He dealt with an ankle injury early, but bounced back well and it appears he showed that he’s ready for more responsibility and passes thrown his way this fall. His development is crucial to Mizzou’s offensive improvement.

3. Replacing Richardson: One person won’t replace the Tigers’ first-round defensive tackle, but it sounds like the team should have a lot to work with up front this fall, starting with junior Matt Hoch, who can play either nose guard or tackle. He might have had the best spring of any Mizzou defender and found ways to make plays. He’ll also have help from talented ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam. Harold Brantley and Lucas Vincent also had solid springs inside.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback controversy: Franklin might have looked sharper and was the starter leaving spring, but redshirt freshman Maty Mauk is right behind him. He had a rough spring game, but has all the tools to be very good in the Tigers’ offense. They shared reps with Corbin Berkstresser, who is still in the hunt after serving as Franklin’s backup last year. Pinkel was very quiet about the race for most of spring, and this one will continue to go through fall camp.

2. Linebacker work: Losing two starters hurt the Tigers, and they’ll try to replace those bodies with younger, unproven players. Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner are both seniors, which helps, but there isn’t much game experience around them. Redshirt sophomore Kentrell Brothers made strides this spring, and the coaches expect more out of Darvin Ruise, who primarily played on special teams last year. Tackling was a problem last year, so this group has to improve there as well.

3. Protection issues: The offensive line might be healthier this spring, but has had a lot of issues with protection. It stunted the growth at times for an offense that desperately needs to improve in 2013. Evan Boehm might be Mizzou’s top lineman, but he moved to center and is still trying to get a handle on his new position. Veterans Justin Britt, Max Copeland and Mitch Morse are back, but there were still communication issues and protection problems that have to get corrected during fall camp.

Opening spring camp: Missouri

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
11:00
AM ET
Schedule: The Tigers open spring practice today at 4:30 p.m. ET and conclude the spring on April with their annual Black & Gold Game on April 20 at 2 p.m. ET in Memorial Stadium.

What's new: After spending 12 years as a Missouri assistant, offensive coordinator David Yost resigned after the 2012 season and was named the inside receivers coach at Washington State. Josh Henson was then promoted from co-offensive line coach to offensive coordinator, while Andy Hill was promoted from wide receiver coach to quarterbacks coach/associate head coach. Pat Washington, who coached at Kentucky in 2012, was hired as the Tigers' new receivers coach.

On the mend: Running back Henry Josey is still recovering from the devastating knee injury he suffered halfway through the 2011 season, but coach Gary Pinkel recently said that Josey ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash and should be able to go through spring camp. Offensive linemen Justin Britt and Taylor Chappell are also recovering from knee injuries, but could be at full strength later this spring. Fellow lineman Anthony Gatti is recovering from recent ACL surgery and could also return in late spring. Defensive end Markus Golden is playing with a hand cast this spring, while wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham rolled his ankled during offseason workouts and is currently in a walking boot.

On the move: Green-Beckham is moving from the inside "Y" receiver spot to the outside "X" spot. With redshirt freshman tight end/Y Sean Culkin back from injury, Green-Beckham was moved outside, where he should be more of a deep threat for the Tigers. Sophomore Ernest Payton has moved from cornerback to safety. Senior linebacker Andrew Wilson has moved from strong side linebacker to middle linebacker. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jordan Williams has moved from tackle to center.

Question marks: With Sheldon Richardson gone, the Tigers are looking for someone to step in and help fill that void. Mizzou might have to replace Richardson by committee this year. Junior Matt Hoch (defensive tackle) and Lucas Vincent (nose guard) will get the first shots at filling the middle. Vincent was Richardson's backup last year, but still has a lot of room to grow on the field. Hoch had a decent 2012 season and the staff is excited about redshirt freshman Harold Brantley. With the heavy amount of ends, the Tigers could move some guys inside to help with depth. Wide receivers Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington are listed as starters this spring, but after underwhelming 2012 seasons, they will be battling for their spots this spring. Also, keep an eye on Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt at the "H" receiver spot. One of them has to solidify that spot this spring. Really, the offense in general has a bunch of question marks, but the biggest one of all might be at quarterback, where James Franklin will be in a heated competition with redshirt freshman Maty Mauk and sophomore Corbin Berkstresser. Franklin's history of injuries could keep the concern level around him high.

New faces: Mizzou welcomed quarterbacks Trent Hosick and Eddie Printz, who enrolled early this spring. Wide receiver Darius White sat out last season after transferring from Texas during the offseason. The Tigers might have a lot of bodies at receiver, but the coaches are very excited about his potential, and he could push for real time this spring.

Key battle: Franklin's past injuries can't be overlooked, and after the season he had in 2012, the coaches have to get his current backups ready for the 2013 season. Franklin enters the spring as the starter, but he'll have to earn it throughout the next two months because the staff is very excited about the potential Mauk has. He's been compared to former Mizzou QB Brad Smith and people around the program feel he can run the offense as well as anyone. Word is that Mauk is really going after the No. 1 spot, so Franklin will be constantly looking over his shoulder this spring. Berkstresser got good experience last year and should be even more comfortable in Mizzou's offense. Getting more confidence at the QB spot is critical heading into the offseason.

Breaking out: Keep an eye on senior cornerback Randy Ponder. The former walk-on has had a lot of time to watch others and should be prepared for his starting role opposite shutdown corner E.J. Gaines. Brantley could be a big player at defensive tackle. He has packed on the pounds and with the position not solidified, the coaches are expecting a lot from him. Culkin should push Eric Waters for the starting spot at the "Y." The coaches are really excited about him and they didn't really want to redshirt him last year.

Don't forget about: Josey had to sit out all of last year, and while Kendial Lawrence rushed for more than 1,000 yards, the offense missed the home run presence Josey brought to the offense in 2011. Josey was the Big 12's best rusher before he went down halfway through the season in 2011, and the Tigers need him to be back to his old ways this fall. Things are starting off right for Josey, who will participate in drills this spring.
All of the underclassmen from the SEC who declared early for the NFL draft (and there were a lot this year) are officially in training mode. They've kissed their schools goodbye and are looking for riches at the next level.

It's a bittersweet feeling for coaches and fans, but in less than a week, they'll usher in the newbies that will be expected to eventually fill the holes left by those underclassmen.

But there are some big shoes to fill this year with all of those early departures.

Not to rub it in, but we thought we'd take a look at 10 juniors SEC teams will find the hardest time replacing in 2013. We're splitting it up by division, so since "E" comes before "W" in the alphabet, we'll start things off in the SEC East (in alphabetical order):

  • [+] EnlargeJarvis Jones
    Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia will certainly miss the production of Jarvis Jones, No. 29, in 2013.
    Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: He wasn't just one of the best players on Georgia's roster, he was one of the nation's best players overall. He was a sack artist and knew how to track players down from anywhere on the field with his speed. Jones also was a major leader for this Georgia defense, which will lose a wealth of talent and starters in 2013. Look for rising sophomore Jordan Jenkins' role to expand. Jones' 24.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks will certainly be missed.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: Patterson was just beginning to scratch the surface when it came to his potential. He was one of the most dynamic players in the SEC, making noise as a receiver, a return man and a rusher. He led the SEC with 1,858 all-purpose yards (154.8 yards per game) last season and while he was still raw, he was a big play waiting to happen when he got the ball in his hands. Patterson was a real difference-maker and could have made tremendous strides and really helped Butch Jones in his first year in Knoxville.
  • Jordan Reed, TE, Florida: The Gators really struggled throwing the ball in 2012, but Reed was the best, most consistent receiving option for quarterback Jeff Driskel. He was an All-SEC performer in 2012, leading the Gators -- and all SEC tight ends -- with 45 catches. He also led the team with 559 yards and was second with three touchdowns. While he still showed some rawness at times, he was a mismatch for defenders, as he was too fast for most linebackers and too big for most defensive backs. The Gators didn't have any receiving targets as reliable as Reed last fall, and losing him creates a giant hole in Florida's passing game. Look for the athletic Kent Taylor to take over Reed's spot.
  • Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: Richardson was easily the Tigers' best player in 2012. He played his way into the first round and might be poised to break into the top 15. Richardson was a major force up front for the Tigers, finishing the year with 75 tackles, including 10.5 for loss and four sacks. He could stop the run and chase quarterbacks around. He will be very hard to replace. Lucas Vincent was Richardson's backup last year, but he has a lot more room to grow. Also, nose guard Matt Hoch had a decent fall. The Tigers are overloaded at defensive end and might have to move someone over to help out at tackle.
  • Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina: Marcus Lattimore was South Carolina's best offensive player when he was healthy, but even if he returned in 2013, there was no telling how much he would actually play. Losing Sanders, who surprised everyone with his decision to turn pro, is a major blow to South Carolina. He was the Gamecocks' best big-play receiver and was one of the SEC's top return specialists. Bruce Ellington's role will now expand in order to make up for the loss of Sanders on offense, and he could also get some time in the punt return game. Rising sophomore Shaq Roland will also have to grow and develop more before the fall.
Depth charts for all 14 SEC teams are out, so let's take a look at them.

I'll handle the Eastern Division, while Chris takes a look at the West later today.

I've added some notes of my own for each team:

FLORIDA

Depth chart
  • The first thing you notice is that "Or" comes up a few times. The quarterback spot is still up for grabs, as sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will play by quarters against Bowling Green Saturday. The "X" receiver spot has three names by it with Frankie Hammond, Latroy Pittman and Andre Debose competing for that spot. Everyone is still waiting for Debose to be more of a complete player.
  • Both corner spots might appear to be up for grabs, but it would be a shocker if sophomores Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy didn't start. Roberson has the talent to be an All-SEC player at some point, while the staff thinks Purifoy is an extremely athletic player. Also, seeing Antonio Morrison behind Jelani Jenkins is impressive. He's been solid since arriving this spring.
  • You don't see De'Ante Saunders on there at free safety. Will Muschamp said he's battling a hamstring injury and will be out two weeks. Corner Jeremy Brown is also battling a wrist injury and isn't on the two-deep, either.
GEORGIA

Depth chart (Page 2)
  • It's hard to say how much we can really make of Georgia's depth chart. Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree are both listed as starters. Rambo and Ogletree could still sit out a couple of games due to their reported failed drug tests this spring and Mark Richt hasn't said if either will play Saturday.
  • Malcolm Mitchell is listed as a starter at cornerback, opposite Branden Smith, and is a third-team receiver. That sounds about right, as Mitchell has primarily played corners since the spring. He has taken some reps on offense, so you might see him on both sides of the ball Saturday.
  • Two guys to keep an eye on are center David Andrews and outside linebacker Ramik Wilson. Andrews might be the key to the offensive line. He has done very well at center and there was some worry that he might not be cut out of the position. If he had to move this line might have been in disarray. Wilson received a lot of praise from his teammates this spring and he continued to show out this fall. He won't outshine Jarvis Jones this fall, but he'll cause a stir on defense.
KENTUCKY

Depth chart
  • You can tell that the Wildcats aren't afraid to throw out some younger players this fall. Kentucky has 24 sophomores, redshirt freshmen or true freshmen listed on its two-deep for Saturday. That's a lot, especially for a team that is looking to revamp both sides of the ball. There could be a lot of growing pains for this team early.
  • Sophomore receiver Demarco Robinson and redshirt freshman receiver Daryl Collins might be currently listed as backups for the Cats, but don't let that fool you. Both have been very impressive since the spring and both will get plenty of chances to see the field Saturday. Having three senior starters at wide receiver will help bring those two along, but I expect them to breakthrough eventually.
  • You won't see sophomore Josh Clemons listed on the two-deep at running back, as he's out after his knee was cleaned up. CoShik Williams and Raymond Sanders are listed as co-starters. I'm also curious to see what happens at linebacker. Four new starters are in and there were questions surrounding the weakside position. Former quarterback Tyler Brause moved ahead of Malcolm McDuffen, who exited spring as a starter. Joker Phillips has said this will be a day-to-day competition.
MISSOURI

Depth chart
  • The Tigers enter Week 1 against Southeastern Louisiana pretty banged up, especially on the offensive line. Potential starting guards Jack Meiners (knee) and Travis Ruth (triceps) are both out with injuries, and so is backup right tackle Taylor Chappell, who tore the ACL in his left knee and is out for the season. Starting corner Kip Edwards and projected starting free safety Braylon Webb are listed as doubtful with knee injuries. It's probably best to rest these guys if they could aggravate their injuries before the Georgia game next week.
  • Gary Pinkel also announced on Monday that running back Henry Josey is out for the season. He hasn't recovered from his devastating knee injury, but this was no surprise at all.
  • Some good news is that four starters -- linebacker Will Ebner, nose guard Matt Hoch, wide receiver L'Damian Washington and tight end Eric Waters -- made the two-deep after they were held out of last week's scrimmage. Listed behind Waters at the tight end/"Y" receiver spot is freshman Dorial Green-Beckham. Missouri wants to use him both inside and out, so expect him to move around Saturday.
  • Sophomore Kony Ealy and junior Michael Sam are listed as the starting defensive ends, with senior Brad Madison behind Sam. Madison's shoulder has healed, but maybe it says more about how far the others have come. Madison should still get solid reps, but keep an eye on Ealy. He has breakout potential.
SOUTH CAROLINA

Depth chart
  • The first thing that stands out to me is that top signee Shaq Roland is listed as a third-team wide receiver behind Ace Sanders and DeAngelo Smith. It might say more about how the others have done, but Roland is someone this staff has been very excited about and hopes he can make an instant impact on offense. He isn't taking Sanders' spot, but he'll get on the field.
  • That secondary looks pretty green without Akeem Auguste in it. He's out after tearing a muscle in his right thigh, meaning junior Jimmy Legree, who moved from safety this spring will get the start against Vanderbilt Thursday. Legree began last season as a starter, but lost his spot after struggling during the first two games. First-time starter Victor Hampton is at the other corner spot. He's unproven, but the staff is excited about his talent and athleticism.
  • Freshman tight end Jerell Adams might be listed as a second-teamer, but the coaches have been very impressed by him this fall and he'll have every chance to get some solid playing time early.
TENNESSEE

Depth chart
  • Junior Rajion Neal did a good job of staying ahead in the running back race. After an impressive spring, he will enter Friday's opener against NC State as the Vols' starter. He edged out Devrin Young and Marlin Lane, who both made good strides this spring. He has a lot of pressure to deal with, as Tennessee was awful running that ball in 2011.
  • Tennessee is hoping to get much more out of its defensive line this fall and junior college transfers Daniel McCullers and Darrington Sentimore could be the answers. Both came in with a ton of hype and snatched starting spots at nose guard and end, respectively. McCullers' arrival moved Maurice Couch from tackle to end. Derek Dooley has said the line is still a work in progress, but a lot is expected from Sentimore and McCullers.
  • Byron Moore and Brent Brewer are listed as co-starters right now, but Moore let it slip last week that he was named the starter. This could be another position that won't be settled right away. The secondary will get a nice test against the Wolfpack, so that could make things clearer for Week 2.
VANDERBILT

Depth chart
  • Redshirt junior Warren Norman is back, but he might have to wait his turn for reps. He's listed on Vandy's second team, but Zac Stacy and Jerron Seymour are on the first team. If the Commodores line up with two backs Seymour could be out there before Norman, who is coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him for all of 2011.
  • The defensive side has a few guys who were banged up listed as starters. Inside linebacker Chase Garnham was limited during fall camp, but he's set to start Thursday against South Carolina. So are defensive tackles Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter.
  • Looking at that offensive line, you'll see nothing but underclassmen on the second team. While that's a good sign for the future, it could be worrisome for this staff if a starter goes down this fall. Staying healthy up front is critical for this team.

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. -- It's time to take a look at some notes and thoughts from my visit to see the Missouri Tigers:
  • For starters, it appears that quarterback James Franklin is going to be fine this fall. He missed most of spring with a shoulder injury, but coach Gary Pinkel and offensive coordinator David Yost expect him to make a full recovery from his surgery and to be ready for the season. When Yost talks about his spread offense being successful, he points out two areas that the quarterback has to excel at: hurting defenses with his running ability and throwing down field. "The two things he probably did best as a freshman was run the ball and (had a) vertical passing game," Yost said. "If you had two things to pick, those are the two things you pick to be good at. It keeps people honest in the coverage, which by keeping them honest in coverage it opens up the run game for you."
  • Having Elvis Fisher back at left tackle is going to be huge for this offensive line. Three outright starters are gone, but the Tigers do return a group of players that started a few games last season. Fisher wasn't one of them because of a knee injury that ended his season before it truly began. The old man on the line brings a lot of experience and leadership to one of the most important positions on the field. "That was the biggest recruit we signed last year," Yost said. "About six days after we got the information that Elvis was back, I can tell you our O-line coaches were doing back flips that day." With Fisher back, Missouri can move junior Justin Britt, who started 13 games at left tackle last fall, back to right tackle, which secures the edges for the Tigers.
  • Speaking of offensive linemen, Yost said he doesn't anticipate or really want his linemen getting any bigger than they already are. Missouri's three-deep up front averages just about 295 pounds. The heaviest player -- right tackle Chris Freeman -- is 325 pounds. These guys aren't exactly big, but Yost said he's satisfied with his players' size because they move around just fine and size has yet to be an issue for this offense. "We're not going to be 340 (pounds) ... 310 is about as big as we get," Yost said. "For us and what we ask them to do they're kind of our guys." Yost added that the physicality has increased up front, but these linemen will be "space players."
  • Pinkel had a long run in the Big 12 and while he enjoyed his time there, he's happy to see the Tigers in the SEC. He hopes the Big 12 does well and stays together, but he absolutely believes the school made the right move by coming over to the SEC. "We did the right thing for Missouri and we understand that," he said. "There are a lot of things infrastructure wise that we're adjusting to going into this league and that's all good. My big thing when our administration made a decision was that if we're going to do it be a player and be committed. You don't walk into this league and sit back and say we're going to give it a good try because you'll just get mauled."
  • The players are tired of hearing about how they'll matchup with SEC teams. You can tell all that talk has added some motivation. The Tigers can't wait to get started in their new surroundings. "It's exciting to go out there and play new teams," Fisher said. "I know we've played some SEC teams in bowl games and fared pretty well, but it's going to be pretty interesting to go play a whole season with the big boys ... see how tough it is." Added wide receiver T.J. Moe: "It's a neat change of venue. We're going to get to go down to Florida this year, we're going to get to go down to South Carolina. It's going to be exciting to see the culture down there and the new environment. ... They take their football serious down there. Maybe it's going to be a little bit different from going up to Colorado."
  • The defense was without some key players up front this spring, but defensive coordinator Dave Steckel used his time very wisely. He plugged in as many guys as he could with linemen Sheldon Richardson and Brad Madison out. Two guys to look out for up front are defensive end Kony Ealy and nose guard Matt Hoch. Ealy played in 12 games as a freshman last season, recording 13 tackles, but was atop the depth chart this spring. With Madison out, Ealy made the most of his increased reps. Madison will have his hands full when he gets back up to speed and starts battling Ealy this fall. Hoch, a rising sophomore, is someone Pinkel is especially excited about, saying he really stood out "at a high level" this spring. He started his career as a tight end then moved to defensive end. He's inside for the first time in his football career.
  • Missouri lost three starting defensive linemen from a year ago, but the front seven will really benefit from the talent it has at linebacker. When you return three linebackers with nearly 500 combined tackles in their career, good things should happen. Zaviar Gooden, Andrew Wilson and Will Ebner are all back and should be strength of this defense. With these players returning, there's no way you can't have Missouri's linebacker group near the top of the SEC.
  • Missouri's secondary will probably fly under the radar heading into the season. The Tigers were fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense last year, but return 32 starts from the starting four secondary players. One question brought up to defensive players has been if they'll be physical enough compete with SEC power offenses. Cornerback E.J. Gaines, who is sure to garner preseason praise after breaking up 16 passes last season, says Missouri's secondary is more than ready to deal with more physical offenses running more traditional schemes. "All these Missouri Tigers are physically ready," he said. "They keep us in shape and they keep us physical here at the University of Missouri. I feel like we can go anywhere and be just as physical as anybody else."

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