Developing secondary pass-catchers tops fall camp priority list at Mizzou
Missouri begins its fall camp this afternoon at 3:45 p.m. CT.
With the season kickoff (vs. South Dakota State, Aug. 30) 26 days away, there still are a few items on the agenda of coach Gary Pinkel. What is the team’s priority list during fall camp?
Here are a few items the team should prioritize.
1) How will the team distribute pass targets?
If you’re a Missouri fan, surely you’re tired of hearing about the receivers not on the roster in 2014.
Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt combined for 11 catches in Maty Mauk’s four starts last season. That surely equated to many more reps during those weeks of practice, so he’s at least not starting from scratch with two of his primary targets for this season. But Mauk and the first-team offense need to take advantage of the fall practices to get as familiar with each other as possible before the season.
A big part of this particular point is determining how much Missouri will target non-receivers with passes in 2014 and to whom Mauk will throw outside of the receivers. The Tigers didn’t throw to running backs and tight ends much in 2013, though Marcus Murphy led that group with 11 receptions. The team’s most dangerous all-purpose threat theoretically could pose a liability for defenses by catching passes in space, though he’s averaged 3.3 yards per target according to SB Nation.
Missouri also can and should get the tight end more involved in the passing game if possible (after the position accounted for just nine receptions last season), though Sean Culkin, a redshirt sophomore and the presumed starter, has one career catch. Fall camp will give Pinkel a chance to evaluate Culkin and his other pass-catching options a little closer.
2) Can the team develop defensive line depth?
Depth at defensive end was one of last season’s unsung strengths for a 12-win Missouri team.
One season after Michael Sam emerged from a productive bench player to SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Missouri again has to feel good about its backup defensive ends becoming starters. Markus Golden led the unit in tackles despite coming off the bench behind two NFL Draft picks. And Shane Ray is a tremendous athlete who is at his best rushing the passer.
The concerns here are two-fold. First, can freshmen Marcus Loud and Charles Harris do anything to approximate the level of production provided off the bench last season by Golden and Ray? Second, though a historically bad run defense against Auburn in the SEC Championship skewed the numbers, Missouri was very good against the run for most of 2013. Ray isn’t a tremendous run-stopper; the team can rely on two senior defensive tackles, but there just isn’t any experience at defensive end beyond the starters.
It will be important to develop Loud, Harris and another player or two as options to spell the starting defensive ends and provide support against the run.
3) Can the team sneak extra practices beyond the NCAA’s approved limit to develop its green linebackers?
Just kidding on this one. Sort of.
Missouri should be athletic at linebacker. But considering returning starter Kentrell Brothers is one of two players at the position with meaningful experience, the Tigers have work to do in camp to develop a group of young linebackers.
It would be nice if Darvin Ruise, a 6-foot-1, 240-pound senior, could earn a meaningful role and perhaps even launch himself back up the depth chart and into a starting position this fall after slipping during the spring. But either way, a group of athletic, green young linebackers headlined by Michael Scherer needs to be ready to contribute.
Luckily for Missouri, which operates one of the fastest offenses in the SEC, the group should get some pretty good looks in practice, but will it be enough to simulate game speed?