Mizzou Tigers - Reaching new lands

Discussion in 'Thread Archive' started by kursku, Aug 1, 2012.

  1. kursku

    kursku Walk On

    Jul 12, 2012

    Are they ready for this move?

    At the start of all the realignment and expansion talks it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Mizzou was going to end up in the Big Ten. It seemed like a perfect fit of academics, geography and TV markets, but the Big Ten didn’t seem to be as interested as Missouri wanted it to be. The SEC came calling and now the Tigers are going to be a part of the biggest show in college sports.

    The initial reaction of the move to the SEC was the same when Texas A&M decided it was going to make the jump – how was Missouri going to succeed in the SEC when it couldn’t win the Big 12 title?

    The goal is to be a bit different and to improve the program just enough talent-wise to be able to compete with the biggest and best teams on a regular basis. Missouri has been good enough to beat the top Big 12 teams from time to time, and it’s been strong enough to be a regular in the conference title chase, and now it might just have the right blend of positives to be better than many might think.

    Going to the SEC is a big recruiting plus. The TV exposure is stronger and the prestige of playing in the premier league should be enough to get Missouri in the door with more and more top recruits. Head coach Gary Pinkel has always had a pipeline to Texas, and with Texas A&M still in the league that might be just enough to keep things open. Just as important – especially this season getting superstar receiver recruit Dorial Green-Beckham – is the ability to keep the top local players close to home. Now, prospects from St. Louis to Kansas City that might normally be tempted by the Big Ten or other Big 12 schools can be sold on the idea of a bigger national profile while getting to play up the road.

    But, again, Missouri hasn’t had too many problems over the last few years staying with the better teams and the big schools. The problem has been consistency, and in the SEC it’s all about being able to bring the A game week-in-and-week-out.

    The Tigers were able to pull off a thriller over No. 1 Oklahoma two years ago, and then got steamrolled the week after by Nebraska. They weren’t able to close against Arizona State, Kansas State or Baylor last season, but they were good enough to look dominant against Texas and blow away North Carolina. They’ve been close over the last several seasons, but there always seems to be something missing at just the right time – sometimes it’s a key stop and sometimes it looks like a lapse in the game plan – to turn the corner and go from great to special.

    Fortunately, Missouri is going to the East while Texas A&M is off to the West, and while these things tend to go in cycles, being in the same division with Kentucky and Vanderbilt is a nice start. At the moment, dealing with Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee is far, far better than having to face Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Arkansas every year.

    But still, until the wins start coming, the constant knock will be that Mizzou is out of its weight class. Sure, it’ll be a tough out and it should win its share of battles, but can the team string together big win after big win to be a player in the SEC? This year, maybe it can.

    The schedule really isn’t all that bad. Getting Alabama stinks and closing out with the final three conference games on the road at Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M isn’t fair, but considering Georgia is coming to Columbia, the date against Bama and the road trip to South Carolina are the only two games the Tigers shouldn’t be able to win.

    The offense that finished 12th in the nation in total yards is more mature and should have more firepower in the passing game, while the starting 11 on defense are as good, athletic and nasty as any Pinkel has had during his tenure.

    If Mizzou was in the West, forget about it, but in the East and with the talent returning it could be a surprise of a season. The program from top to bottom appears ready to show that it’s not going to be a pushover. They’ve embraced a “nobody believes in us” attitude, because no one believes in them. That might soon change.

    What to watch for on offense: Can the line hold up? Finding smart and productive linemen has never been much of a problem for the Tigers, but it was a bit of a patchwork group last season and it’s relying on a few hopes and prayers this year. The return of Elvis Fisher from a knee injury is a big deal, giving the line a veteran leader to work around, but the depth is painfully thin and it’s not going to be the most physical unit in the SEC. It’s going to be a good line, but it’ll also be a finesse blocking unit that will have to prove it can handle the killer defensive lines like Florida’s, Georgia’s and South Carolina’s.

    What to watch for on defense: A tremendous back seven. The Tigers are used to getting into track meets against the high-octane Big 12 passing games, but it’s going to be a different animal now in the SEC. Georgia will be able to throw the ball, and a non-conference game against Arizona State will test out the secondary, but both of those games are at home in mid-September. After that, other than maybe Alabama, there isn’t another good passing team on the schedule until the trip to Tennessee to deal with Tyler Bray in mid-November. Missouri will have to change its focus a bit and be ready to get hammered on by decent ground games, and it should be able to take a few more chances with so few top-flight quarterbacks to deal with. That’s a huge, HUGE positive considering …

    The team will be far better if … the secondary doesn’t get torched. While Bray, Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Georgia’s Aaron Murray are great passers and nice prospects, Missouri lost last year to four future NFL starting quarterbacks in Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler (388 yards and four scores); Oklahoma’s Landry Jones (448 yards and three scores); Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden (338 yards and three scores); and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III (406 yards and three scores). It took those four, and a tremendous college talent in Kansas State’s Collin Klein, to beat Missouri, and while Texas Tech and North Carolina each had 300-yard days, the numbers were mostly in bomb away time to keep up the fight. Missouri was 5-1 last year when allowing fewer than 300 passing yards.

    Best offensive player: Freshman WR Dorial Green-Beckham. It’s okay to gush and put the pressure of greatness on a true freshman when he’s this good. The nation’s No. 1 recruit is 6-6, 220 pounds and fast. It’s all there to be a special star to an already good receiving corps, and while he won’t be asked to be the main man right away with veteran T.J. Moe the go-to target, DGB could be just the gamechanger the offense needs. He’s not just the best wide receiver prospect to ever come to Missouri; he might be the best wide receiver prospect in college football over the last several years.

    Best defensive player: Junior CB E.J. Gaines. The Tiger secondary is full of good playmakers and nice veterans, but it’s Gaines who has managed to do a little of everything making 69 tackles to go along with 16 broken up passes and two picks. He won’t have to do as much without as many superior passing games to deal with, but he’ll be good on No. 1 targets and he’ll hold up well against the run.

    Key player to a successful season: James Franklin, James Franklin, James Franklin. With star running back Henry Josey expected to need a full season to recover from the knee injury he suffered last year, more of the rushing load will fall on the junior quarterback. He has good size and he’s a playmaker of a passer, but he’s at his best when he’s making things happen on the move taking off for 152 yards against Texas Tech and 142 more in the bowl win over North Carolina. The problem is that he’s banged up, suffering a shoulder injury this offseason, and while Mizzou has become a factory for quarterbacks, he has to be healthy and effective for the team to have any success.

    The season will be a success if … the Tigers win nine games. While no one around Missouri will concede that this will be anything less than a big season, nine wins after going 8-5 last year would validate that the program belongs in the new league. Assuming a loss to Alabama, and if there aren’t any major mistakes, 8-4 before going to the bowl is a must.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
  2. kursku

    kursku Walk On

    Jul 12, 2012


    Junior James Franklin wasn’t Blaine Gabbert as a pure passer, but he found his game as the season went on making more and more big things happen and playing with more and more confidence. At 6-2 and 225 pounds he has decent size and excellent mobility, but he’s more of a baller than a runner, taking off when needed but first looking to keep the passing game going by spreading the ball around. He threw for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns, but he threw 11 picks with three coming in the loss to Oklahoma State and in the surprising struggle against Kansas. With a year of experience as the starter, he should play an even bigger overall role in the attack, like he did after Henry Josey went down late in the season.

    Franklin ran when needed, carrying the ball 20 or more times in three games, but he was at his most effective in two of the final three games with Josey out rushing for 152 yards and two scores in the win over Texas Tech and 142 yards and two touchdowns in the win over North Carolina. It’ll be tempting to get him running even more, but he should be an even steadier passer. He’s a smart decision maker and a high-character leader who’s going to be the star of the franchise for the next two years, and he can handle it.

    Franklin is the main man, but there are several other good options at the ready. Redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser was one of the team’s top recruits last year with 6-3, 220-pound size and a pro-style arm. He’s not going to run much, but he’ll get the passing game rolling if something happens to Franklin.

    Watch Out For … Franklin to throw for 3,000 yards. He threw for 2,865 in 13 games last year, but he’s not going to be able to run as much against SEC defenses. He’ll use his mobility and skills to move around to make more passing play and get the ball to his targets; the SEC isn’t going to let him take off.
    Strength: Talented options. The pecking order is going to be rock solid with Berkstresser and Glaser each good enough to step in something happens to Franklin. Missouri has become a quarterback factory, and the talent is stockpiled.
    Weakness: Backup experience. There isn’t any. There might be talent among the reserves, but if Franklin gets hurt the Tigers are starting from Ground Zero.
    Outlook: Franklin had a good first season as the main man, and while he might not make a big jump forward statistically because of the move to the SEC, he should be steadier and more consistent. It would be nice if some of the backups could get some work in early on, but the season will hinge on Franklin’s ability to carry the offense through a brutal schedule.

    Running Backs

    Henry Josey isn’t going to come back this year. The extremely talented junior was one of 2011’s breakout players, running for 1,168 yards and nine scores with six 100-yard games in seven weeks, and then he suffered a horrific knee injury against Texas and was gone for the year. It was such a major problem that he had to undergo a few surgeries and is being kept under wraps. The coaching staff isn’t going to risk his future and is almost certainly going to kept on the shelf until next year with a redshirt season still to take.

    With Josey almost certainly out, senior Kendial Lawrence picked up the slack down the stretch to finish with 566 yards and five scores. He did next to nothing over the first half of the season, but came through when needed after Josey went down against Texas with 106 yards and a score. The 5-9, 195-pounder is the typical Mizzou speed back with a great burst when he gets a whole to run through. While he’s not powerful, he has nice hands and can cut on a dime.

    While Lawrence provides the speed, 5-11, 250-pound senior Jared McGriff-Culver will bring the thump. He has the size and he has some special teams experience but he hasn’t gotten much work in the offense running just 16 times for 111 yards with a touchdown last season. His role should change this season, while 6-1, 215-pound sophomore Greg White could grow into a major factor. He only ran for 38 yards in four games, with most of the production coming in the blowout over Western Illinois, but he’s a good enough athlete to be an Arkansas all-state basketball player and was one of the team’s top recruits a few years ago.

    Watch Out For … James Franklin to finish third on the team in rushing. The quarterback helped pick up the slack when Josey went down and finished second on the team with 981 yards and 15 scores, but he’s not going to find SEC defenses as easy to run through and he’ll be needed more as a passer. The Tiger backs will do more of the heavy lifting.
    Strength: The system. Missouri always seems to find a 100-yard back when it needs one, and while there isn’t a runner like Josey ready to go this year, there are a slew of nice backs who can step in like Lawrence did late last season and produce.
    Weakness: A proven thumper. There’s more size to the mix this year with McGriff-Culver and White expected to do more to provide some power. However, the offense likes its speed backs and it’ll try to get Franklin going in the open field.
    Outlook: It’ll take a village. Lawrence isn’t a 25-carry-a-game back, and Josey isn’t going to be part of the mix. That’ll mean it’ll take several options and a regular rotation to get close to the 3,172 yards and 30 scores the attack came up with last season. The SEC is going to be far tougher to run through, but the ground game should still be effective.


    Is he ready yet? Missouri might have a nice receiving corps in place, and the passing game will be fine with or without the freshman class, but getting the No. 1 overall prospect,Dorial Green-Beckham, suddenly provided a major boost. The 6-6, 220-pound NFL star-in-waiting has all the size, all the athleticism, and all the speed to be special with great open field moves and terrific hands. According to Scout.com, he’s the best wide receiver prospect to come out in years, and big things will be expected of him right away.

    Green-Beckham might be the team’s most talented receiver, but T.J. Moe should be the team’s leading target once again. While his production might have dipped with James Franklin at quarterback in place of Blaine Gabbert – catching a team-leading 54 passes for 649 yards and four scores after making 92 grabs for 1,045 yards and six scores in 2010 – he was still effective. At 6-0 and 200 pounds the 2008 Missouri Player of the Year is extremely quick and is ultra-reliable on third downs, but he only came up with two 100-yard games last season and he didn’t have any explosive games like the 15-catch performance he came up with in the bowl loss to Iowa two years ago. He’ll be Franklin’s go-to target at the H.

    Junior L’Damian Washington is a 6-4, 195-pound speedster with great size and terrific potential. Very smart, he’s not going to make too many mistakes and last year he finally started to produce with 20 catches for 364 yards and three scores with key touchdowns in the losses to Arizona State and Baylor along with a 45-yard scoring play against Oklahoma. He’ll start out on the Z, while 6-5, 215-pound junior Marcus Lucas will get the first look at the outside X after finishing third on the team with 23 catches for 414 yards and five scores. He became more and more reliable as the year went on, scoring four times over the final five games of the regular season, and he has the talent and the tools to grow into a devastating deep threat with more passes thrown his way.

    6-3, 200-pound senior Rolandis Woodland has size and deep play speed as the No. 2 man at the X, but he only caught one pass for 16 yards last season. 6-0, 215-pound sophomore Jimmie Hunt only came up with one catch, but he made it count with a 54-yard score against Western Illinois. He’ll become more and more of a factor at the inside Z, while 5-10, 190-pound senior Gahn McGuffie will see a little time working behind Moe after coming up with three catches for 18 yards.

    So who’s the next great Missouri pass catching tight end? Michael Egnew and his 147 career catches are gone, and now it’s up to 6-4, 240-pound junior Eric Waters to show what he can do. A strong athlete with all the tools, he has the talent and the potential to be a special player with a little more time. With basketball player athleticism and soft hands, it’s his turn up after making just two catches for 46 yards and a score. Also in the rotation will be 6-4, 220-pound junior Jaleel Clark, who’s more of a big wide receiver than a true tight end. He hasn’t been a part of the offense yet, but he should be a decent pass catcher with a little more time and development.

    Watch Out For … Green-Beckham. It’s not going out on a limb to call him one of the most talented receivers in the SEC without even setting foot on the field. Moe is a nice veteran, but Green-Beckham is the superstar who can take the offense to another level.
    Strength: Size. Green-Beckham looks like an NBA 3, Lucas is 6-5, Washington is 6-4, and there are a slew of six-foot targets across the board. This group looks the part.
    Weakness: Quarterback. James Franklin is growing into his own and is a terrific, smart leader, but he’s not a pure passer and the opportunities aren’t going to be there like they were with Blaine Gabbert a few years ago. The passing game took a backseat to the running attack last year.
    Outlook: Everyone was back last year, and the passing game was effective and decent. However, it wasn’t devastating. Franklin will spread the ball around and the production will come from several different big, athletic targets, but a tight end has to emerge right away and Green-Beckham has to be half as good as the hype. Even if he’s not, Moe and Washington are a good place to start.

    Offensive Line

    Elvis is back in the building. The old man on the lot, senior Elvis Fisher returns after missing last year with a knee injury. With 40 starts under his belt, the two-time honorable mention All-Big 12 performer is back and healthy at left tackle where he has the 6-5, 295-pound size and the moxie to be one of the Big 12’s best blockers. With a good frame and nice feet, he has all the raw tools, but he has to stay healthy after having problems with a shoulder as well as his knee.

    6-2, 295-pound senior Travis Ruth spent most of last year working at center, but he’ll move over to guard where he’ll give it a shot on the left side. An Academic All-Big 12 performer, he’s smart and tough on the interior. With him moving over, 6-5, 295-pound sophomoreMitch Morse is about to be the main man in the middle. Very smart and extremely physical, the Austin, Texas native has offensive tackle size but has been groomed over the last few years to be ready at center.

    Austin Wuebbels is gone at right guard, opening up a hole for 6-6, 310-pound senior Jack Meiners to step in and get a full-time role. Versatile, he saw time as a true freshman and has moved around where needed, but now he has a home. A great prospect coming out of high school, he has excellent size and the strength needed to bury his man.

    Taking over for Dan Hoch at right tackle is 6-6, 300-pound junior Justin Britt, who stepped in for Fisher at left tackle last season and did a terrific job. Beefed up, he has packed on the pounds over the last few years and has filled out his frame, and after last year he has the experience and the talent to handle himself on the other side without a problem. Smart and versatile, he could even step in at center if absolutely needed.

    6-8, 325-pound sophomore Chris Freeman is a hulking huge tackle option who saw a little time in three games. He still needs more time and technique work, but he’s a top talent with the raw bulk the coaching staff wants in a right tackle. Junior Max Copeland added 20 pounds to his frame to get up to 290 pounds, and now he’ll see time at left guard behind Ruth. At left tackle, with Fisher’s injury history, 6-5, 290-pound redshirt freshman Taylor Chappell has to be at the ready. If disaster strikes again Britt will move back over to left tackle and the 6-5, 290-pound Chappell might end up seeing time at right tackle, but Freeman could be a better fit to step in.
  3. kursku

    kursku Walk On

    Jul 12, 2012

    Defensive Line

    The defensive line needs senior Brad Madison to return healthy from a shoulder injury that kept him out of spring ball and limited him at times throughout last year. He played in every game and made 25 tackles with 4.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, and an interception, and when 100% healthy he can be among the SEC’s best pass rushers. At 6-4 and 260 pounds he beefed up a bit to fill out his frame, and once he’s ready to go he’ll be the star of the line.

    Also looking to come back healthy from a shoulder problem is Sheldon Richardson, the superstar JUCO transfer who tried finally qualified academically and made his presence felt in his first season. The 6-4, 295-pound senior could’ve gone anywhere with his NFL upside and anchor ability, and while he only started in two games, he didn’t disappoint with 37 tackles to go along with two sacks and eight tackles for loss. Along with being freakishly strong against the run, he’ll be one of the SEC’s top interior pass rushers.

    One of the team’s most important fights will be on the nose, where Lucas Vincent andGeorge White will battle to replace Dominique Hamilton, the anchor who dominated last year with 56 tackles and three sacks. The 6-2, 295-pound Vincent got his feet wet as a freshman with 11 tackles and two tackles for loss. While he’s not a huge nose, he’s tremendously strong and can hold his own in the interior. White, a 6-3, 290-pound senior, will try to close out his career with a bang. Athletic, the former linebacker can move, but he hasn’t made an impact yet.

    Kony Ealy got a start against Baylor on the end and finished with 13 tackles and a sack on the year. The 6-5, 260-pound promising sophomore is fast off the ball and showed the promise to potentially be the team’s next great playmaker. A good recruit, he has all the tools to be special working on the other side of Madison. 6-3, 260-pound junior Michael Sam stepped in this spring with Madison out. Extremely promising, he came up with 24 tackles and 3.5 sacks as a freshman after making 29 tackles with a 1.5 sacks last year. Quick off the ball and extremely athletic, he’s quick enough to be even more of a disruptive force.

    With Richardson out, senior Jimmy Burge was the main man at tackle this offseason and has proven to be good enough through the years to handle himself well in the rotation. At 6-2 and 285 pounds he has good size and enough experience to be exactly what the defense needs. He only made three tackles last year, but he’s a good veteran. He’ll combine with 6-4, 290-pound sophomore Matt Hoch in the backup rotation. Hoch didn’t do anything last year, but he’s a good athlete who hit the weights hard and will be one of the team’s bigger interior presences.

    Watch Out For … Ealy. It was Aldon Smith, then Jacquies Smith, and Madison will be the main man when he’s back. Ealy might not be the team’s top pass rushing terror this year, but he’ll be turned loose and should be in for a huge year.
    Strength: Pass rush. The Tigers might have only come up with 27 sacks, but the steady stream into the backfield was terrific and disruptive. The line can get into the backfield from all four spots.
    Weakness: Shoulders. Can Madison and Richardson get to 100%? Injuries are a problem in several places for the Tigers, but the line is the biggest area of concern if the two stars aren’t healthy. Madison and Richardson are supposed to be fine, but they need to be as good as new.
    Outlook: Mizzou has become a factory for defensive linemen, but losing Smith and Hamilton will still hurt. There’s more than enough talent to send wave after wave of players in the rotation to hold up against the run and get to the quarterback. It’s a terrific line full of size, speed, and athleticism, but everyone has to be healthy to hold up.


    All three starting linebackers return with a little bit of playing around with the roles. JuniorAndrew Wilson led the team last season with 98 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss playing mostly in the middle, but he’ll get a long look on the strongside this season. At 6-3 and 235 pounds he has excellent size and huge hitting ability, coming up with 12 tackles against Texas A&M and 13 against Kansas State. He’s tough enough to handle himself inside or out, and he should be one of the SEC’s leading tacklers.

    6-0, 230-pound senior Will Ebner started out last year in the middle but was knocked out for the year with an ankle injury after making just three tackles. He’s one of the team’s biggest hitters and is a strong, intimidating force, but he’s always banged up fighting through a knee injury earlier in his career and a foot injury a few seasons ago. Very smart and very good when he’s able to stay on the field, he’s an all-star talent for the middle of the defense with great range and tremendous leadership.

    Senior Zaviar Gooden won’t move around. The 6-2, 230-pound veteran is very smart, very fast, and very productive with 80 tackles last season to go along with a sack and six tackles for loss. Bulked up, he has matured into his frame and now should be poised for a huge season with the athleticism to be even more of a pass rusher and with excellent open field tackling ability. An elite athlete who reportedly has a 4.3 40 on the résumé, he has the raw skills to soon blow up the NFL combine.

    Considering the injury problems of Ebner and the way Missouri used linebackers in the rotation, the backups are a key part of the defense. 6-1, 240-pound sophomore Darvin Ruise hit the weights over the last year to add size to his speed game. He’s a weakside defender who moves well in the open field and can become a good pass rusher in time. He made two tackles in limited action, while 6-1, 240-pound junior Donovan Bonner came up with 13 stops and two forced fumbles as a key reserve. He’ll back up Ebner in the middle, while 6-2, 225-pound sophomore Michael Brennan will mostly see time on the strongside.

    Watch Out For … Ebner. It’s not a lock that he can get through a season healthy, but he had a year to heal up and he should be one of the SEC’s best tacklers. If he’s right, the Tiger linebacking corps will be a major strength.
    Strength: Tacklers. The Missouri linebackers don’t let much slip. The defensive backs make plays, but it’s a major positive that the three leading tacklers last season were linebackers.
    Weakness: Pass rush. It wasn’t really the job of the linebackers to get into the backfield on a regular basis, but it would be nice if they did. The line mostly does the heavy lifting when it comes to rushing the passer, and the top three linebackers combined for 26 tackles for loss, but they have the ability to do more.
    Outlook: The Tiger linebackers came up with a great year even with Ebner on the sidelines. Luke Lambert might be gone, but the return of Ebner provides a nice boost to the corps that should be terrific if Gooden and Wilson play up to their abilities. The defenders are great against the run, they’re fast, and they’re active. They’ll fit in perfectly in the SEC, and they should dominate if the line does its job.

    Defensive Backs

    The Tiger secondary has excellent experience and good athletes across the board, but a new strong safety has to step up in place of Kenji Jackson, who finished fourth on the team with 76 tackles and came up with a strong year. 6-0, 210-pound senior Kenronte Walkerwas a spot starter last season, working mostly late in the year at free safety, finishing with 44 tackles with a sack. The former JUCO transfer has size and a ton of talent; he was a great get for the program a few years ago. A big hitter, he’s good against the run and should be just fine in place of Jackson.

    Sophomore Braylon Webb had a terrific first year as a spot starter and jack-of-all-trades, starting four times at free safety and seeing time in other roles. At 6-0 and 210 pounds he has nice size and he’s a good hitter making 36 stops, but now he has to show he can shine when the ball is in the air. One of the best athletes in the secondary, he can run with anyone.

    Senior Kip Edwards went from being a decent reserve to the good starting corner with 6-1, 200-pound size and good range. He missed a few games banged up, but he made 55 tackles with a pick and three broken up passes. He might not have been a top playmaker, and he might have had problems at times on deep balls, but he was a good, sound defender who can be trusted on one side.

    While Edwards was supposed to grow into the team’s No. 1 corner, junior E.J. Gainesactually did it. He has decent 5-10, 190-pound size and tremendous speed and ball-hawking ability, making two picks and a whopping 16 broken up passes to go along with 69 tackles. Excellent in the open field, he proved he could handle himself on top opposing targets and did enough to earn First Team All-Big 12 honors. Athletic, tough, and instinctive, he always seems to find ways to get around the ball.

    Junior Matt White has been a nice reserve and part-time starter over the last few years, following up an 18-tackle first season with 47 stops with four broken up passes as a free safety. However, he didn’t do nearly enough against the pass and now will be mostly a key reserve and nickel and dime defender. 6-4, 195-pound sophomore Daniel Easterly is tall and rangy, but he’s a good hitter and should play a bigger role at strong safety after making nine tackles as a backup.

    5-10, 195-pound junior Randy Ponder started three times last year and play mostly in nickel and dime defender after making 37 tackles and coming up with a key pick against Texas A&M. He’s a smooth, quick coverman, while 6-1, 195-pound senior Robert Steeplesstarted against Arizona State and finished the season with 21 tackles with a pick. He has good size and nice range.

    Watch Out For … Gaines on a national scale. He’s good enough to come up with big plays and be a shut-down playmaker, but he doesn’t quite have enough of a reputation to be avoided. He’s growing into one of the nation’s top corners.
    Strength: The SEC. Merry Christmas, Missouri. The Big 12 bombed away at will, meaning giving up 253 passing yards per game wasn’t too bad. The SEC has a few good passing teams, but compared to dealing with Robert Griffin, Landry Jones, and Brandon Weeden last year, dealing with SEC offenses will be a picnic.
    Weakness: Consistency. Again, it’s not really fair or right to judge a secondary based on what it does in the Big 12, but the Tiger secondary was a bit too hit or miss and allowed a few too many big plays. This year, the secondary has to shine at the right times against the best passing games; it’ll have to step up its play when needed.
    Outlook: The secondary had concerns last year with experience and proven production. That won’t be an issue this time around with terrific prospects at all four spots, depth, and talent. Gaines is a terrific corner, and Walker and Webb will be as athletic as any safety tandem in the SEC. If the pass rush does its job up front, the stats will be far better than last season.

    Special Teams

    It was one of the most stunning disappointments of last year. Grant Ressel came into the season as one of the nation’s top kickers, but he struggled hitting just 9-of-16 and wasn’t clutch. However, Ressel’s problems gave Trey Barrow a chance, and he came through connecting 7-of-9 attempts. However, he didn’t show off any range with his longest field goal coming from just 39 yards out. Also the team’s punter, he has a good leg and he’ll get more chances from deep this year. The senior averaged 44.8 yards per kick and put ten inside the 20, but he had a ton of problems with his placement putting 18 in the end zone.

    The return game was decent last year with receiver T.J. Moe averaging 23.3 yards per kickoff, but he didn’t break loose on punt return averaging just 5.2 yards per try. Corner E.J. Gaines was better averaging 10.9 yards per punt return with a score.

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