COLUMBIA, Mo. -- It's time to take a look at some notes and thoughts from my visit to see the Missouri Tigers:
For starters, it appears that quarterback James Franklin is going to be fine this fall. He missed most of spring with a shoulder injury, but coach Gary Pinkel and offensive coordinator David Yost expect him to make a full recovery from his surgery and to be ready for the season. When Yost talks about his spread offense being successful, he points out two areas that the quarterback has to excel at: hurting defenses with his running ability and throwing down field. "The two things he probably did best as a freshman was run the ball and (had a) vertical passing game," Yost said. "If you had two things to pick, those are the two things you pick to be good at. It keeps people honest in the coverage, which by keeping them honest in coverage it opens up the run game for you."
Having Elvis Fisher back at left tackle is going to be huge for this offensive line. Three outright starters are gone, but the Tigers do return a group of players that started a few games last season. Fisher wasn't one of them because of a knee injury that ended his season before it truly began. The old man on the line brings a lot of experience and leadership to one of the most important positions on the field. "That was the biggest recruit we signed last year," Yost said. "About six days after we got the information that Elvis was back, I can tell you our O-line coaches were doing back flips that day." With Fisher back, Missouri can move junior Justin Britt, who started 13 games at left tackle last fall, back to right tackle, which secures the edges for the Tigers.
Speaking of offensive linemen, Yost said he doesn't anticipate or really want his linemen getting any bigger than they already are. Missouri's three-deep up front averages just about 295 pounds. The heaviest player -- right tackle Chris Freeman -- is 325 pounds. These guys aren't exactly big, but Yost said he's satisfied with his players' size because they move around just fine and size has yet to be an issue for this offense. "We're not going to be 340 (pounds) ... 310 is about as big as we get," Yost said. "For us and what we ask them to do they're kind of our guys." Yost added that the physicality has increased up front, but these linemen will be "space players."
Pinkel had a long run in the Big 12 and while he enjoyed his time there, he's happy to see the Tigers in the SEC. He hopes the Big 12 does well and stays together, but he absolutely believes the school made the right move by coming over to the SEC. "We did the right thing for Missouri and we understand that," he said. "There are a lot of things infrastructure wise that we're adjusting to going into this league and that's all good. My big thing when our administration made a decision was that if we're going to do it be a player and be committed. You don't walk into this league and sit back and say we're going to give it a good try because you'll just get mauled."
The players are tired of hearing about how they'll matchup with SEC teams. You can tell all that talk has added some motivation. The Tigers can't wait to get started in their new surroundings. "It's exciting to go out there and play new teams," Fisher said. "I know we've played some SEC teams in bowl games and fared pretty well, but it's going to be pretty interesting to go play a whole season with the big boys ... see how tough it is." Added wide receiver T.J. Moe: "It's a neat change of venue. We're going to get to go down to Florida this year, we're going to get to go down to South Carolina. It's going to be exciting to see the culture down there and the new environment. ... They take their football serious down there. Maybe it's going to be a little bit different from going up to Colorado."
The defense was without some key players up front this spring, but defensive coordinator Dave Steckel used his time very wisely. He plugged in as many guys as he could with linemen Sheldon Richardson and Brad Madison out. Two guys to look out for up front are defensive end Kony Ealy and nose guard Matt Hoch. Ealy played in 12 games as a freshman last season, recording 13 tackles, but was atop the depth chart this spring. With Madison out, Ealy made the most of his increased reps. Madison will have his hands full when he gets back up to speed and starts battling Ealy this fall. Hoch, a rising sophomore, is someone Pinkel is especially excited about, saying he really stood out "at a high level" this spring. He started his career as a tight end then moved to defensive end. He's inside for the first time in his football career.
Missouri lost three starting defensive linemen from a year ago, but the front seven will really benefit from the talent it has at linebacker. When you return three linebackers with nearly 500 combined tackles in their career, good things should happen. Zaviar Gooden, Andrew Wilson and Will Ebner are all back and should be strength of this defense. With these players returning, there's no way you can't have Missouri's linebacker group near the top of the SEC.
Missouri's secondary will probably fly under the radar heading into the season. The Tigers were fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense last year, but return 32 starts from the starting four secondary players. One question brought up to defensive players has been if they'll be physical enough compete with SEC power offenses. Cornerback E.J. Gaines, who is sure to garner preseason praise after breaking up 16 passes last season, says Missouri's secondary is more than ready to deal with more physical offenses running more traditional schemes. "All these Missouri Tigers are physically ready," he said. "They keep us in shape and they keep us physical here at the University of Missouri. I feel like we can go anywhere and be just as physical as anybody else."