Missouri Football: The Top 5 Position Battles in Fall Camp
The Missouri Tigers fall camp is in full swing and players all over the roster are fighting for their positions.
Mizzou returns 15 starters from their 2010 roster, leaving seven positions open to new players. Some of those positions have quickly been filled with new talent and don't appear to be in competition. Sophomore James Franklin will take over the starting quarterback job and junior Kip Edwards and sophomore E.J. Gaines will man the cornerback spots.
Fall camp is a great opportunity to make a name for yourself as a football player. Sometimes players come out of nowhere to steal starting jobs, while others who appeared to be locks fade away to the sidelines.
Let's take a look at the top five position battles for the Missouri Tigers this fall at team practices.
Candidates: Ashton Glaser, Corbin Berkstresser, Jimmy Costello
With sophomore James Franklin locked in as the starting quarterback, the intrigue turns now to the backup quarterback position, where three players at very different points in their college careers will fight for the No. 2 spot.
Redshirt sophomore Ashton Glaser finds himself at a crossroads. He's been with the team for three seasons, buried on the depth chart. Glaser's never seen game action and was quickly passed up by young players like James Franklin and the now-departed Tyler Gabbert this past spring.
Glaser looked shaky in spring practices, but he does have good mobility and option skills. He's a scholarship quarterback who has to make a stand now if he ever wants to be in the two-deep.
His biggest challenger will be incoming freshman Corbin Berkstresser. Berkstresser is a 3-star prospect and the top quarterback from the state of Missouri from the class of 2011. He's been impressing early in fall camp, taking a lot of repetitions with the second-team offense.
Berkstresser is the biggest quarterback (6'3", 225 lbs) with arguably the strongest arm of the group. The more camp progresses, the more it appears that Berkstresser is the top player suited for the No. 2 role.
Last but not least is senior walk-on Jimmy Costello. He retired from the team following the 2010 season, but was asked to come back following the transfer of Gabbert to add depth to the position.
His main role will be mentoring Franklin in the team's offense, but that may make him the best man to back him up and save Berkstresser's redshirt for 2011.
My prediction is that Corbin Berkstresser wins the role at the end of fall practices.
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Candidates: T.J. Moe, Jimmie Hunt, Gahn McGaffie, many others
The Missouri Tigers had a lackluster return game in 2010, but with a slew of talented players vying for the position this fall, that could change quickly in 2011.
Last year's kickoff return man, Marcus Murphy, is out for the season, so now their is a void at the kickoff and punt return positions.
The biggest name of the bunch is junior wide receiver T.J. Moe. Moe is the team's top target on offense, but he could also be the answer Mizzou is looking for at punt returner. He's stated that he's not concerned about being injured, but the coaching staff may not want to take that risk.
Junior wide receiver Gahn McGaffie is best known for his electrifying opening kickoff return for a touchdown last year against Oklahoma. He's been injured for most of fall practices, but he's the only player on the roster to score a touchdown on a return.
Redshirt freshman receiver Jimmie Hunt is the fastest player on the team and has experience returning kicks in high school. He's an all-around playmaker and giving him one of the return roles could be a great way for Missouri to use his talent this coming season.
There's no clear leader for the kickoff return slot, but T.J. Moe has been taking a lot of the punt return reps and looks to be the best player for the job. Either way, expect Missouri to improve in the return game this season with better players at the position.
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Candidates: Luke Lambert, Will Ebner
Missouri needs to find consistency at middle linebacker and seniors Luke Lambert and Will Ebner are locked in a dogfight for the starting role for 2011.
Both players were starting linebackers in the 2010 season. Ebner was supposed to have a breakout year after a solid 2009 campaign, but injuries plagued him all year and he wasn't the same player for the majority of the season.
Lambert was a captain this past season, but only played in three games due to injuries. He was granted a medical redshirt for 2011 and looks to be 100 percent this fall. Lambert has been injured every season of his Tiger career.
When healthy, Ebner is the biggest hitter on the team and capable of intimidating opponents and causing fumbles. He was a key part of the 2009 defense and still finished seventh on the squad in tackles this past season despite battling a suspension from the team and multiple injuries.
The same can be said for Lambert, who can't seem to stay on the field no matter how much he impresses his teammates.
Like Highlander, there can only be one middle linebacker, and while both players will probably see time, ultimately only one will be the starter. Look for a healthy Will Ebner to become the go-to guy at this position in 2011.
Candidates: Matt White, Tavon Bolden, Kenronte Walker
The biggest uncertainty on the Missouri defense lies at the free safety position, where redshirt sophomores Matt White and Tavon Bolden will fight until the end of fall camp to be named the starter.
Bolden ended spring camp listed atop the depth chart, earning the team's most improved safety award. But he was inexplicably dropped to third at the start of fall practices. It was later revealed that Bolden was punished for undisclosed disciplinary issues and needed to regain the favor of the coaching staff.
Matt White, on the other hand, has done nothing but make plays at both free safety and nickelback this fall camp. He's a slender 6'1", 190 pounds, but he can pack a punch when he wants to and displays the most versatility of the Missouri safeties. He currently is on the fast track to land the starting nod.
The dark horse in this race is walk-on redshirt junior Kenronte Walker. Walker has quietly improved a great deal since the beginning of spring practices. He's the backup strong safety and has seen playing time with the first defense in their nickel and dime packages.
At the end of the day, Tavon Bolden has the biggest hill to climb but it will be a daily battle with Matt White until the team's opening week against Miami (OH). This is one position that simply won't be decided until then.
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Candidates: De'Vion Moore, Kendial Lawrence, Henry Josey
While the Missouri Tigers will use a running-back-by-committee approach for the 2011 season, head coach Gary Pinkel would like to see one of these players to separate themselves from the pack.
Last season, the combination of senior De'Vion Moore, junior Kendial Lawrence, and sophomores Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy ran for 1,557 yards and 19 rushing touchdowns. With Murphy now out for the season, the load becomes a little bit heavier for the other three players.
Lawrence has showed the biggest improvement since the end of last season. He has the most complete skill set of all the running backs and had the most consistent play during spring practices. Lawrence began the fall listed atop the Tiger depth chart at running back.
De'Vion Moore may have temporarily lost the starting spot, but he's going to be a vital member of the Tiger running game. He was the team's leading rusher (517 yards) last season and scored more rushing touchdowns than any player (eight). Moore gives Missouri a goal-line presence and great experience as a runner.
Sophomore Henry Josey is the fastest player of the group and displayed breakaway speed in his limited carries last season. Josey's 5.8 yards per rush were tied for best on the squad. He's bulked up since last season and could make a big leap with Marcus Murphy no longer nipping at his heels.
Also, don't count out redshirt freshman Greg White to replace Murphy in the rotation. White has slimmed down from 230 to 219 pounds and makes the most of his opportunities.
All of the running backs are going to play, but my money is on Kendial Lawrence to seize the starting job and shoulder more of the load in 2011.