With the offseason officially underway, SDS will examine what’s next for spring football for all 14 teams. Next up, Missouri.
Missouri opens spring practice today, and a run toward another division crown ensues this spring. The Tigers will host their annual spring game April 19th.
Much is changing personnel-wise for Missouri on both sides of the ball, but the coaching staff stayed intact for another season. Mizzou loses James Franklin, Henry Josey and L’Damian Washington, among others, on offense, while bookends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam are gone. Middle linebacker Andrew Wilson is also gone, along with three starters in the secondary, including All-SEC corner EJ Gaines.
Position of concern
Yes, replacing Ealy and Sam’s sack production is worrisome, but the Tigers should be fine with Markus Golden and Shane Ray. However, the secondary is a big question mark. The unit returns safety Braylon Webb, but loses corners EJ Gaines and Randy Ponder, along with fellow safety Matt White.
RELATED: SEC Pre-Spring Power Rankings
Position of strength
The wide receivers unit is the obvious pick here, but I’m going to dig deeper than surface level. Although you’d never expect it, the Tigers’ defensive line will be great once again. Ealy and Sam will both play on Sundays, but returners Markus Golden and Shane Ray are more than adequate. Golden racked up 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last season as a reserve, and Ray made nine tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Combine Ray and Golden’s production with two starting defensive tackles returning in Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent, and this unit will be strong once again. It may not be 2013 great, but Mizzou will be more than explosive and disruptive with the returning players.
Three signees who will get you excited
1. Brandon Lee, OLB: The Indiana native will compete for playing time immediately, and he more than looks SEC-ready at 6-3, 215 pounds.
2. Nate Brown, WR: Brown very well could be the next DGB at 6-3, 210, and he can make any catch in a 10’ radius. He’ll compete for playing time as a freshman.
3. Rocel McWilliams, DE: Mizzou is known for signing lower-rated prospects and turning them into NFL Draft picks. McWilliams is one to watch for in the coming years. He may not jump on the scene as a freshman, but he has some huge upside.
Spring’s primary position battle
The biggest spring battle will ensue in the secondary, particularly at cornerback. Replacing Ponder and Gaines won’t be easy. Rising sophomore Aarion Penton should emerge and take one of the starting jobs. He played in 14 games last season, making a handful of starts and 16 tackles. Other returners in Xavier Smith, John Gibson and David Johnson will battle to start opposite Penton. Watch for Duron Singleton to emerge as a starter in the secondary, too. This will be a fun battle to keep an eye on this spring.
Emerging spring player prediction
Corner Aarion Penton will turn heads this spring. He put himself on the map during his freshman season, but he’ll solidify a starting job this spring. The speedy former in-state high school star is ready to show the SEC he’s the next EJ Gaines.
Offseason’s burning question
Should Missouri be the favorite in the SEC East for 2014?
Tigers’ offseason crystal ball
Quarterback Maty Mauk takes over the reins, and the offense could be taken to new heights for the record-setting high school signal caller. Mauk has a little Johnny Manziel in him, and he could become the SEC’s biggest breakout player in 2014. He also has a loaded receiving corps to throw to, three starters returning on the offensive line and a viable running game. The biggest worries tilt toward defense. The defensive line is a concern, along with the secondary. But knowing Dave Steckel, he’s going to put together a top-five or -six SEC defense, enough to give the team a chance to make back-to-back trips to Atlanta.
Photo Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports