I had a chance to catch up with Head Football Coach Gary Pinkel this week to talk over some things related to spring ball, which begins Tuesday, March 8th already. Hard to believe that spring camp gets going this soon, it seems like we just barely got done with the 2010 season, and here we go again!
Below is a sneak peek of the preview that we'll have on the website Tuesday. This isn't the full preview, we're going to hold off on the position-by-position breakdown until next week, when I get the final pre-spring depth chart. As you can see below, Coach Pinkel is very eager to get out on the practice and see just what this group can do -- he's excited about all the experience coming back, that's for sure.
Before we get to the preview, for you number enthusiasts, here's the jersey changes that I've been given from last year:
Chris Freeman (OL) -- was #67, now is #74
Tristen Holt (CB) -- was #46, now is #2
Henry Josey (TB) -- was #40, now is #20
Marcus Murphy (TB) -- was #43, now is #6
Randy Ponder (CB) -- was #28, now is #7
Braylon Webb (S) -- was #49, now is #8
Greg White (TB) -- was #40, now is #24
There's one position change to note at this point, as redshirt freshman Matt Hoch (the younger brother of senior OL Dan Hoch) has decided to move to the defensive line, where he'll try his wares at defensive end. He played last year in his first year of the program at tight end, and definitely made good impressions with his work ethic and hard-nosed nature.
From an injury standpoint, OL Elvis Fisher (shoulder), DT Dominique Hamilton (foot), LB Luke Lambert (knee), LB Will Ebner (foot), DE Marcus Malbrough (shoulder), TE Beau Brinkley (shoulder), Corey Sudhoff (shoulder) and LB Adam Burton (knee) will not participate in contact initially. Head Athletic Trainer Rex Sharp said that Hamilton, Ebner, Lambert, Malbrough and Sudhoff could be cleared for some drills, possibly after spring break (which ends April 3rd).
Here's the first part of the preview...
Mizzou Football Spring Camp Preview
While most of America is focused on the excitement of "March Madness" this time of the year, the University of Missouri football team is setting its mind on this fall's 2011 season. The Tigers, who have won 40 games over the last four years (which ranks as 10th-best in the NCAA from 2007-10), begin spring practice this Tuesday, March 8th as they look to follow up on a 10-3 season from a year ago.
Mizzou has a lot of proven players returning to the fold in 2011, including nine starters on offense, and six starters on defense (plus three others who either have started or have played starter-like snaps). And throw into the mix the fact that one of the nation's top placekickers over the last two years - senior Grant Ressel - is back for his third season, and Tiger fans certainly have a lot to look forward to this fall.
Count Head Coach Gary Pinkel, who will enter his 11th year of prowling the Tiger sideline, as one of those who are eager about the upcoming season.
"I'm excited about this team, there's a lot of seniors, a lot of good players, a lot of guys who are very committed to this program," Pinkel said. "It's exciting to see that and be a part of it. Now, the challenge for us is to make sure our seniors have the best years they've ever had. A year ago, we won 10 games, and most every senior had their best year. That's important if you want to achieve your goals and reach your potential. That's where it starts in the spring," he said.
As the Tigers take to the field, it comes on the heels of a tough and demanding winter conditioning program which followed the heartbreaking loss to Iowa in the 2010 Insight Bowl. Whether the Tigers, who have been to a school-record six-straight bowl games under Pinkel, win or lose a bowl game, Pinkel's approach to the spring is always the same.
"For us, it's always business as usual, I always take a hard-hat approach, let's get back to work," Pinkel said. "Coming through our Winning Edge program, which is our Tuesday and Thursday morning workouts, and our Monday-Wednesday-Friday weight lifting - that's what we've been doing since we got back in January, and that's gone really well. I think we've matured and grown as a team, we're faster, stronger, quicker and a lot of the young players, after going through the Winning Edge program we have in place, they understand a little more about the intensity level at which it takes to compete at this level. As far as goals, our goals have not changed since we got here - to win a Big 12 championship, compete for a national championship, and to go to a bowl," he said.
When Pinkel and his staff took over in December of 2000, their biggest challenge was to build the depth to where it would sustain a consistent winner. Even though that goal has been achieved (as the six straight bowls will attest), the work there is never done. However, Pinkel does feel good heading into this spring camp about the talent he and his coaches have assembled.
"One of the great things about our football team I think we have more depth at most every position, and that only leads to the competition being greater than it's ever been," Pinkel said. "I think the beauty of how we do things here, unlike a significant number of other places, is that kids get opportunities here, and they know that the best person is going to play, that there's no pecking order. Just because 'Johnnie' has been here, he doesn't have anything handed to him, the guys who deserve the right to play are going to get the job," he said.
With the wealth of talent coming back, it's a pair of early defections to the NFL that most outside observers will focus on - likely first-round draft picks Blaine Gabbert and Aldon Smith. Gabbert threw for over 3,000 yards in his two seasons as a starter for the Tigers, and would have been a senior in 2011, while Smith terrorized opposing offenses the last two seasons as one of the nation's top defensive ends, and chose to bypass his final two years of eligibility.
Even with those losses, Pinkel feels that things are in good shape heading into the spring.
"We've got battles all over the field, but people certainly look at the importance of quarterback," Pinkel said. "Whoever wins the job, the good news for him, is that he's going to have an offensive line that's probably as experienced as any offensive line I've ever coached. Plus, he's got everybody else back, including all of the receivers and running backs. I've never had a first-year quarterback have this much experience around him. All these other guys need to pick their games up to the highest level, to increase that guy's chance for being successful. It will be very competitive, James Franklin is the starter going in, but Ashton Glaser and Tyler Gabbert are competing and it's all good, I'm all smiles because I like competition," he said.
With the veteran supporting cast coming back, will that change to focus of Mizzou's spread offense? Not necessarily, but Pinkel also declares that leaning on an effective running game wouldn't be a bad thing for a first-year quarterback.
"In our offense, we throw the football, that's what we do," Pinkel said. "That being said, with all the proven performers we have back at tailback and offensive line, we'll have to see how it goes, we really will make more of those types of decisions when we get into August. I don't think there's any question about it, with a young quarterback, being able to run the ball well will take a lot of pressure off that position," he added.