Missouri Football: Position-by-Position 2014 Spring Practice Preview
The Missouri Tigers capped off a remarkable 2013 season with an SEC East Division title and Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State—and now they're looking to show everyone they're here to stay.
Several of Mizzou's biggest stars, including James Franklin, Henry Josey, E.J. Gaines, L'Damian Washington and Michael Sam, have departed for the next level.
That leaves head coach Gary Pinkel looking to move on this spring with a new-look group that will still be a favorite to defend its East crown.
Click on for a full spring primer for the Tigers from new starting quarterback Maty Mauk to the potential replacements for Gaines in the defensive backfield.
Spring Practice Start Date: March 11
Black & Gold Spring Game: April 19
Key Losses: James Franklin
Key Returners: Maty Mauk, Corbin Berkstresser, Eddie Printz
Newcomers: Marvin Zanders
Few teams losing a starting quarterback will be in as good a position as Missouri.
The Tigers lose James Franklin after a great senior season, but they'll instantly replace him with an experienced, young signal-caller, sophomore Maty Mauk.
As a freshman, Mauk filled in admirably for Franklin, tallying 1,071 passing yards with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also showed some impressive running ability, netting 229 yards and a score on the ground.
He's perfect for this fast-paced Mizzou attack and will be vying for All-SEC honors.
Corbin Berkstresser will return behind him and will have to fend off Eddie Printz for the backup job. The Tigers also added Marvin Zanders, a dual-threat early enrollee at the position, though he'll be working his way through a deep QB group and could be bound for a redshirt year.
Key Losses: Henry Josey
Key Returners: Russell Hansbrough, Marcus Murphy, Morgan Steward
Missouri sent one of its most explosive offensive players—Henry Josey—to the NFL, an unfortunate departure for the running back corps.
However, the Tigers will still return plenty of talent in the backfield. Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy will assume the top two spots after combining for 1,286 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last year.
Both will be major parts of the offense, and Murphy could be one of the nation's top all-purpose players this season. He led Mizzou with 1,425 all-purpose yards a year ago.
Morgan Steward is expected to take the No. 3 role but will need a strong spring to keep that position once he is joined by several newcomers for fall camp.
Key Losses: Marcus Lucas, L'Damian Washington
Key Returners: Dorial Green-Beckham, Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, Darius White, Levi Copelin, Sean Culkin
The Mizzou receiving corps will be in flux in 2014. It will lose two of its top receivers, Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington, but it'll also bring back one of the nation's top deep threats, Dorial Green-Beckham.
DGB has an ongoing legal situation that Pinkel declined comment on in January. If he avoids suspension, he will enter the season on the short list of legitimate Biletnikoff Award threats after amassing 883 yards and 12 touchdowns last year.
He'll be joined by several returnees, most notably Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt. That duo combined for 614 yards and two scores a year ago.
Look for that pair, plus Darius White and Levi Copelin, to fight for positioning on the depth chart this spring.
Depth won't be an issue, especially once the next crop of receivers arrives in the summer. Nate Brown—a 4-star from Georgia—is most likely to nab early playing time.
Key Losses: Justin Britt, Max Copeland
Key Returners: Mitch Morse, Anthony Gatti, Evan Boehm, Mitch Hall, Connor McGovern
Even with the loss of Justin Britt and Max Copeland, offensive line figures to be one of Missouri's strengths in 2014.
Looking at the Tigers' pre-spring depth chart, published Tuesday by Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, four of five starters will bring some experience into the season.
The only listed starter who hasn't started a game for Mizzou is an Ole Miss transfer, junior Mitch Hall.
Center Evan Boehm and left tackle Mitch Morse figure to lead this group.
As with any offensive line, establishing a rotation is vital. Several players will be looking to secure a place among the team's top seven or eight linemen, including sophomore Jordan Williams.
Key Losses: Michael Sam, Kony Ealy
Key Returners: Markus Golden, Matt Hoch, Lucas Vincent, Shane Ray, Harold Brantley, Charles Harris
Arguably Missouri's biggest strength from last year was its defensive line.
That group will bring some question marks into the spring after the departures of Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, who combined for 33.5 tackles for loss and 21 sacks.
However, with several contributors returning, the cupboard is far from bare. Markus Golden, Matt Hoch, Shane Ray and Lucas Vincent will lead the new group.
Together, they amassed 169 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.
This spring, the Tigers will have to figure out how that foursome will fit together as the new starting crew.
They'll also be looking for the rest of the rotation to fill in. The top candidates for backup roles appear to be Harold Brantley and Charles Harris.
Key Losses: Donovan Bonner, Andrew Wilson
Key Returners: Kentrell Brothers, Darvin Ruise, Michael Scherer
In Mizzou's 4-3 scheme that often fields just two linebackers, an incredible amount of depth isn't needed at the position.
Nonetheless, the Tigers will have a tough task of replacing Donovan Bonner and Andrew Wilson, a process that will start this spring. Wilson led Mizzou with 113 tackles in 2013.
Expected to lead the group is Kentrell Brothers, who will move from the weak side into a middle linebacker position. The junior is undoubtedly one of the team's top returning defensive playmakers after picking off three passes and tallying 70 tackles as a sophomore.
He should be joined in the starting lineup by senior Darvin Ruise and sophomore Michael Scherer. Behind Brothers, Ruise is the second most experienced athlete of the bunch.
Look for redshirt freshman Eric Beisel, sophomore Donavin Newsom, junior Clarence Green and perhaps early enrollee and 4-star Brandon Lee to compete for pecking order in the spring.
Key Losses: E.J. Gaines, Randy Ponder, Matt White
Key Returners: Braylon Webb, Josh Gibson, Aarion Penton, Ian Simon
Of the many losses on the Missouri defense, the departure of E.J. Gaines might be felt the most.
One of the top defensive backs in the nation, Gaines was third on the squad with 75 tackles and led the Tigers with five interceptions. Randy Ponder and Matt White are gone as well.
White had one pick and 61 tackles, while Ponder logged two interceptions and a team-high 10 pass breakups.
The new leader of the group will be Braylon Webb, who turned in an impressive junior campaign intercepting three passes, breaking up seven more and notching 89 tackles—good for No. 2 on the squad.
It'll be on several other players to fill in around him. Ian Simon should have a major impact along with corner Josh Gibson.
Also, keep an eye on Kenya Dennis, a 6'0', 200-pound early enrollee out of Hinds Community College.
Key Losses: None
Key Returners: Andrew Baggett, Christian Brinser, Marcus Murphy
The special teams unit shouldn't change much.
Kicker Andrew Baggett and punter Christian Brinser will both come back, as will returner Marcus Murphy.
After missing three kicks inside 30 yards—including a 24-yarder at the end of Mizzou's double-overtime loss to South Carolina—Baggett has some room for improvement this offseason.
Brinser will look to improve on his 41-yard punting average.
The return game is set as previously mentioned. Murphy was one of the nation's top returners last year and will be again next year.