March 8, 2011
Columbia, Mo. -
NOTE: Today marks the start of spring camp for the 2011 Mizzou Tiger football team, and mutigers.com will be providing a preview of the team all throughout spring ball. Today's focus is on the overall outlook for Head Coach Gary Pinkel's 11th Tiger squad. In later updates, we'll focus on the offense, defense and special teams, as well as provide practice reports throughout the spring, as the Tigers will have 14 practices from March 8th through April 14th, that will lead them up to the annual Black & Gold Spring Game, to be held Saturday, April 16th at 1 p.m.
Spring Football Preview - Part One
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 eight starters on defense. 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.
Here's a numerical look at the breakdown of starters, lettermen and career starts returning and lost from last season. One thing to note is that the Tigers are listing junior DE Brad Madison and junior CB Kip Edwards as returning starters on defense, due to the fact that they both played just as much as any starter a year ago. That bumps the returning starters on defense up to eight, giving Mizzou 18 returning starters in all, when kickers are included:
Total (Incl. Specialists)
Starters Returning___________ 18
Starters Lost________________ 6
Career Starts Returning_______ 355
Career Starts Lost____________ 237
Lettermen Returning_________ 37
Lettermen Lost______________ 12
Starters Returning___________ 9
Starters Lost________________ 2
Career Starts Returning_______ 198
Career Starts Lost____________ 66
Lettermen Returning_________ 25
Lettermen Lost______________ 6
Starters Returning___________ 8
Starters Lost________________ 3
Career Starts Returning_______ 131
Career Starts Lost____________ 158
Lettermen Returning_________ 10
Lettermen Lost______________ 5
Starters Returning___________ 1
Starters Lost________________ 1
Career Starts Returning_______ 26
Career Starts Lost____________ 13
Lettermen Returning_________ 2
Lettermen Lost______________ 1