Published August 13, 2012 - 6:29pm
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The clock is ticking down to the advent of the 2012 campaign, and we continue to put one of the SEC newbies, the Missouri Tigers, under the microscope. This time, we are going to take a look at which positions Mizzou seems to be the strongest at heading into the season. While it remains to be seen how these units will perform once they start to strap it up on Saturdays, these are the positions that the Tigers seem to be in the best hands with as they start their maiden voyage in the SEC East.
All three of Mizzou’s starting linebackers have multiple years of starting experience, and outside ‘backer Zaviar Gooden, who will man the weak side, was one of the Tigers’ four preseason all-conference picks. Gooden wasn’t even the team’s leading tackler last year, however, as Junior Andrew Wilson took those honors. Wilson worked the middle of the Tiger D last season, but in 2012, will move back to where he started last year, on the strong side as an OLB. That’s because MLB Will Ebner is back after getting hurt in the first half of game one last year and never being able to return. Ebner was a hammer in the middle of the Mizzou and on special teams in his first three years, having zero regard for his body while fighting through numerous injuries. Junior Donovan Bonner has been a special teams maven for Mizzou, and should be ready to step in if someone were to feel the injury bug.
Mizzou runs four and five wides on virtually every play, so it only makes sense that they would be stacked with depth along the offense’s perimeter. Although the Tigers lost two of their top three pass catchers from 2011 to graduation, they return a bevy of talented athletes to go with a stellar recruiting class. Slot receiver TJ Moe led Mizzou in catches and receiving yards last season, and is a preseason all-SEC selection. Juniors Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington both averaged over 18 yards a catch last season, and are currently atop the depth chart at the team’s outside receiver positions.
The Tigers return four other receivers who have earned at least one letter, and will also bring Rivals’ #1 national recruit, Dorial Green-Beckham, into the fold for 2012. Green-Beckham, a six-foot-six man child, will no doubt push for playing time in an already deep corps of receivers. Fellow freshmen Sean Culkin and Brandon Holifield have also impressed enough thus far that they could see time at the team’s Y position, which typically plays as a sort of flexed tight end type on the edge of the line of scrimmage.
Mizzou returns their top three corners from last year, including preseason all-conference selection EJ Gaines, who had 16 pass breakups last year. Senior Kip Edwards, another returning starter, will flank Gaines on the other side, giving the Tigers a pair of corners with plenty of experience covering the pass-happy offenses that permeated the Big 12. Working as the nickel back is former walk-on Randy Ponder, a junior who has risen from practice body to one of the secondary’s biggest hitters. Ponder’s role as the nickel corner was invaluable last year, and his huge fourth quarter interception and return in College Station last season helped spur the Tigers to a comeback road victory over Texas A&M.
Although SEC fans may only think of the Vanderbilt coach when hearing the name James Franklin, the Mizzou quarterback of the same name should quickly become a part of their vocabulary once they see him play. Franklin was one of the Big 12’s best dual-threat QBs last season in his first year as a starter, rushing for almost 1,000 yards and 15 TDs while also throwing for 2,800 and 21 scores. Although the Junior from Corinth, Texas did have three multi-interception games, he also routinely made huge plays with both his feet and his arm. We’ll see if his development can continue in his second year as a starter, and if he is recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.
I have thrown as many collegiate passes as Mizzou’s backup QBs, so Gary Pinkel and company will continue to do their non-injury dances throughout the season. Redshirt Freshman Corbin Berkstresser is a Kansas City native that supposedly has a rocket arm, and true freshman Maty Mauk was a highly touted recruit who ran a similar spread offense while rewriting the Ohio state record books in high school.