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Spring Football: Missouri
April 26, 2010
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By Wendell Barnhouse | wendell@big12sports.com
Big12Sports.com Correspondent


2009: 8-5 overall, 4-4 in Big 12.
Starters returning: Offense (9), defense (9).

Overview
The Tigers were faced with replacing a group of players, led by quarterback Chase Daniel, who were responsible for 22 victories in two seasons. The transition was successful as Missouri overcame an 0-3 league start to finish 8-5 and reach a bowl game.

Coach Gary Pinkel’s team went into spring practice with 18 starters returning and the hope that the Tigers will have a say in who wins the North Division. With junior Blaine Gabbert one of the top returning quarterbacks in the Big 12, Missouri’s offense should be potent. Finding a replacement for Denario Alexander, who led the nation in receiving yards, will be a challenge. The Tigers want a more a productive running game and were heartened by senior tailback Derrick Washington, who had an outstanding spring after losing 10 pounds.

The defense returns nine starters. The Tigers have an outstanding defensive end duos in Aldon Smith and Jacquies Smith. Replacing the play-making and leadership of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, a three-time All-Big 12 selection, will go a long way in determining how well the defense performs this season.



Who’s missing
In addition to Weatherspoon and Alexander, Missouri must replace one starter on the offensive line - Kurtis Gregory, one of the leaders up front. Receiver Jared Perry, a solid contributor, also has moved on.

Who’s new
Sophomore wide receiver T.J. Moe, a high school quarterback, had a big spring game and could be a factor in the passing game. Sophomore linebacker Donovan Bonner saw action as a freshman last season and he might be a candidate to take over for Sean Weatherspoon. Redshirt freshman offensive guard Justin Britt has put himself in position to be a starter.

You’ll hear about
The defense. The Tigers were 64th in total defense and gave up 385 yards rushing in the bowl loss to Navy. Coordinator Dave Steckel continues to preach aggressiveness and improved coverage in the secondary. With the Smiths pressuring opposing quarterbacks, Missouri needs to improve its ability to stop opponents.

Spring buzz
* Of returning running backs on the Big 12, only three have more career rushing attempts than Missouri senior Derrick Washington, who has 403. Washington has proved his durability and his weight loss has increased his quickness. However, backups De’Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence are talented and have shown flashes when they’ve gotten the chance to carry the ball. Washington will be pressed to keep his starting job but also might not have to carry the ball as often.

* Starting left tackle Elvis Fisher missed spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery and starting left guard Austin Wuebbels missed some time with back spasms. Jack Meiners, a 6-6, 305-pound sophomore, got invaluable experience filling in for Fisher while redshirt freshman Justin Britt was impressive replacing Wuebbels. While there were some glitches – Meiners had to block defensive end Aldon Smith, who set the school single-season sack record – Pinkel was pleased. “It might not look pretty out here sometimes, but it’ll pay dividends in the end. It’ll help us become a better football team,” he said.

* Pinkel believes his group of quarterbacks is the best he’s had in 10 seasons at Missouri. In addition to junior starter Blaine Gabbert and last season’s backup Jimmy Costello, redshirt freshman Ashton Glaser along with freshman James Franklin and Tyler Gabbert (Blaine’s younger brother) are on the roster. Franklin and Gabbert each left high school early and enrolled for the spring semester so they could participate in spring practices. Glaser followed the same route a year ago and his extra time on campus was evident in improved performance this spring. Franklin moved up to No. 2 on the spring depth chart but struggled (understandably) in the spring game against the Tigers’ No. 1 defense.

Coach speak from Gary Pinkel
"We want to win the Big 12 North, which gives us a chance to play in the Big 12 Championship Game, which if you're good enough, like we were a few years ago, gives you a chance to play in the National Championship Game. We have a chance to be good if everybody plays better than we did a year ago. But that doesn't always happen."
- On this year’s team

“He’s in the highest level of players we’ve had here. (He has) that kind of ability level. … He’s going to be a lot better than he was a year ago.”
- On sophomore defensive end Aldon Smith, who as a freshman set the school single-season sack record

“We weren’t awful … (but) what’s going to help us be a better pass defense is to pressure more. We’ve got some really good defensive ends here. We know that. And we’ve got to be able to cover better. … I think we’re going to try a few more coverage things on third downs. We’re looking at some other possibilities.”
- On making improvements on defense

2010 Schedule
Sept. 4 Illinois (St. Louis)
Sept. 11 McNeese State
Sept. 18 San Diego State
Sept. 25 Miami (Ohio)
Oct. 9 Colorado*
Oct. 16 at Texas A&M*
Oct. 23 Oklahoma*
Oct. 30 at Nebraska*
Nov. 6 at Texas Tech*
Nov. 13 Kansas State*
Nov. 20 at Iowa State*
Nov. 26/27 Kansas* (Kansas City)
* - Big 12 game.
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