Missouri entered practice framed within clashing narratives, which revealed more about individual biases and personalities than about how good this football team will be in the fall.

The Tigers are back-to-back SEC East champions on the cusp of an impactful new south end zone football facility, and just signed arguably the best recruiting class in Gary Pinkel’s 15-year tenure.

Mizzou just lost its two best defensive players in Shane Ray and Markus Golden, entered spring practice with a sense of urgency bordering on desperation at receiver and lucky to have taken advantage of a temporary downturn at Florida and Tennessee.

RELATED: Top 5 spring practice priorities at Missouri

The program deserves more respect. The program is getting more respect than it ever has.

Pinkel’s team is right on track to compete for another SEC East title. Pinkel’s team is headed toward a dose of reality.

Is your glass half full or half empty? Should we suspend disbelief and project Mizzou, which has delighted in making prognosticators look silly the last two years, as the division’s best team until proven otherwise? Or is this the year the Vols and Gators revert to traditional form, ensuring the Tigers’ 2015 season resembles the conked-on-the-head end of Whac-A-Mole?

We won’t know those answers until deep into the fall. But for now, let’s look at how well the team addressed five of its biggest spring practice priorities.

1. Find some adequate receivers

Addressed?: Yes, but to a lesser degree than the team would prefer

With Nate Brown out most of the spring due to injury, J’Mon Moore emerged as the most productive of the inexperienced receivers. Moore finished the spring with 13 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns, all team highs.

Fellow starter Wesley Leftwich probably is the fastest — excluding recent defensive switchover Raymond Wingo — but at 6-foot-3 with some athleticism, Moore is the most explosive. He’s on a trajectory that should make him at least an adequate piece to the offense by the start of the season.

The group as a whole labored to get open, particularly against starting corners Aarion Penton and Kenya Dennis. Maty Mauk and the receivers clearly need as many reps as possible this summer to better anticipate each other’s adjustments and movements.

Despite small, detectable progress Saturday, the combined stats from the three scrimmages weren’t good: nine interceptions against three passing touchdowns (according to media reports, the group combined for as many as 18 drops in the first two scrimmages). As mentioned, Brown, the popular choice to become Mauk’s go-to target in 2016, would’ve benefitted from participating in all 15 spring practices, and it’s difficult to judge how far behind his injury put him from that projection.

Starting tight end Sean Culkin also missed time due to a shoulder injury, allowing the team to take longer looks at Jason Reese and Clayton Echard. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the team deploy more two-tight end sets this season, with Culkin, Reese or both becoming one of the three or four most-targeted pass-catchers.

Wingo is the wild card here. Pinkel maintained that the staff hasn’t finalized a decision on his position for the fall — receiver or cornerback — but after making three catches for 53 yards working with the third-team offense Saturday, Wingo all but locked himself into the offense.

“I already told Maty, ‘Get ready. I’m going to get on your last nerve,’” Wingo said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “because I’m really going to get into this offense and learn it like the back of my hand.”

2. Determine how much tinkering to do on defense

Addressed?: Absolutely, but the team has tried to keep it mysterious

New coordinator Barry Odom has played it close to the vest this spring despite a humorous media leak and subsequent denial about the “Dawg” position, allegedly a hybrid defensive end/linebacker the team may utilize.

On the spectrum of “keep everything the same because it’s working great” to “let’s get crazy,” the bread-crumb trail suggests Odom and the 2015 defense fall somewhere in between.

The defensive line remains the catalyst. Charles Harris and Marcus Loud may not be as intimidating as last year’s defensive ends, but they stand to develop into good players in their own right. It seems like Odom prefers a streamlined group, inserting Rickey Hatley as the interior starter next to Harold Brantley and moving Josh Augusta, a mountain of a man, into a rotational role.

According to snippets of information we’ve gleaned from the Columbia Tribune, Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Odom may employ more multiple looks — stunts, linebacker blitzes, defensive ends standing up as well as dropping into coverage and occasional three-man fronts.

Odom and the defense were intentionally vanilla during the spring game — again, close to the vest — but dominated a green offense missing three starters Saturday and throughout the 15 practice sessions.

3. Continue to develop Maty Mauk

Addressed?: Yes, although for what it’s worth, it remains a big priority

Expectations soared after Mauk took over for an injured James Franklin in 2013 and kept Mizzou at the top of the SEC East, then crested after a rocket three-game start in 2014.

Now is a good buy-low opportunity, as the market for Mauk since has endured a moderate decline.

He’s healthy, getting past a shoulder injury that bothered him last season. He’s cut his body fat from 20 to 11 percent. The Tigers are (correctly) drilling him on staying within the pocket more often, especially when the offensive line keeps it clean. He’s remained comically bullish in the team’s receivers, at one point touting walk-on Eric Laurent as if he’s an all-conference caliber player.

For myriad reasons, the junior-to-be remains a work in progress. He completed just 51.5 percent of his passes in three spring scrimmages — at just 4.5 yards per attempt. Keep in mind that’s mostly against the second-team defense without the real threat of getting driven into the ground by pass rushers.

Back to the whole narrative thing, to those optimists out there, if those are the numbers this fall, even a No. 1 in the SEC type defense and another 1,000-yard rushing season from Russell Hansbrough probably won’t be enough to win another division title. To the pessimists, Mizzou doesn’t play a game for another 4 1/2 months.

It’s difficult to judge rushing numbers when the quarterbacks can’t get tackled — Mauk “ran” six times for 40 yards in the spring game — but one of his biggest improvements from my perspective this spring is finding more opportunities to turn the ball upfield.

I found some unintentional comedy Saturday in the halftime feature on Mauk broadcast on the SEC Network Alternate channel, in which Mauk insisted he’s bailing from the pocket much less often, and he’s running upfield rather than “wasting time” running sideways or backward. It aired minutes after he did just that on two or three snaps. But, other than one heave-and-a-prayer that fell incomplete to Leftwich in the end zone, used many of those opportunities to get positive yards and set up a touchdown to Moore on the final play of the half.

“He ran a bunch today, and none of it was by design,” offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “That’s obviously a great thing he brings. If we’ve got to use that more to win, that’s what we’ll do.”

4. Improve the secondary

Addressed?: An understated yes

Dennis has maintained his physical, aggressive edge while becoming a more consistent corner. Penton and Ian Simon are playing more like the veterans they now are rather than young, sometimes out of place defensive backs.

But the biggest positive, from what little we can gather with a limited perspective, may be the depth.

Anthony Sherrils, the projected starter at safety alongside Simon, missed practice with migraines, but the group didn’t seem affected. John Gibson, Logan Cheadle and David Johnson all seemed to hold their own most of spring practice, even against the first-team receivers.

What was an unknown group in 2014 that I felt like sometimes relied on the team’s outstanding pass rush to cover its flaws seems better equipped even without Braylon Webb to stand on its own merits.

5. Settle the left tackle position

Addressed?: Yes … maybe … kinda?

I’m not an offensive line coach. Clearly I’m less qualified than A.J. Ricker. But from the outside, Mizzou’s fast-paced game of musical chairs with the offensive linemen doesn’t seem like a great idea. Every terrific offensive line coach I’ve been around at the high school, college and NFL levels maintains that continuity is a huge deal.

The Tigers return one of the most experienced offensive lines in the SEC, yet only one position — Evan Boehm at center — feels entrenched. After spending the last year operating at right guard or right tackle, Connor McGovern, out with a sprained knee, is expected to open fall camp as the starting left tackle. From there, a number of players should compete for the final three slots: Brad McNulty, Mitch Hall, Taylor Chappell, Malik Cuellar, Nate Crawford, Clay Rhodes and Tyler Howell.

Many of those guys are competing at multiple positions. Generally, it seems like even Ricker has little idea whom will start, and where, come September. That seems odd given the number of experienced players returning. With uncertainty in the passing game, it may help to solve and settle the offensive line.

The biggest positive is that the group seems well-prepared in case of an injury thanks to depth and versatility. That wasn’t the case last season, and it cost the offense for a while when Anthony Gatti went down with a season-ending injury against Indiana.

“I’ll tell you what we do have that we didn’t have last year, at least in camp, is we’ve got guys that are battling for positions and not hand-me-down stuff,” Ricker said after Saturday’s Black & Gold game, according to the Columbia Tribune. It’s good to see.”