Schedule: The Tigers begin practice on Tuesday and conclude on April 19 with Missouri’s annual Black and Gold scrimmage inside Memorial Stadium. All of Missouri’s practices are closed to the public.
What’s new: While coach Gary Pinkel did lose a few valuable pieces to his roster, he was able to keep his coaching staff intact for 2014.
On the mend: The Tigers should be relatively healthy entering spring practice. Missouri should get redshirt junior cornerback Ernest Payton back after he tore his ACL just before last season’s opener, causing him to miss the 2013 season. Also, redshirt junior wide receiver J'Mon Moore should be back after a shoulder injury bothered him all last year.
On the move: There could be some movement along the Tigers’ offensive line with starters Justin Britt (left tackle) and Max Copeland (left guard) gone. Keep an eye on starting right tackle Mitch Morse, who could move over to left tackle in order to keep some experience on that side of the line.
New faces: The Tigers have five early enrollees this year. The true freshmen are cornerback Logan Cheadle, offensive lineman Michael Fairchild, linebacker Brandon Lee and quarterback Marvin Zanders. Junior college cornerback Kenya Dennis is also on campus early.
Question marks: Mizzou watched as its secondary was gutted after the 2013 season. Three starters, including All-SEC cornerback E.J. Gaines, are gone, and while the Tigers have bodies to throw on the field this spring, there isn’t a lot of experience. Rising sophomore Aarion Penton started two games in place of Gaines last season and played in all 14 games for the Tigers. He seems primed to take Gaines’ spot, but a gang of players will be vying for the spot opposite him. Look for Duron Singleton and Cortland Browning to compete for the open safety spot.
The loss of receivers L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas means that someone needs to step up and help Dorial Green-Beckham. Green-Beckham is capable of being an All-American, but he’ll need assistance from guys such as Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White. Also, expect some youngsters to compete for more time at receiver. However, the biggest hole on offense might be at left tackle. Redshirt sophomore Jordan Williams, who moved from guard last season, could get the first looks there during camp, but watch out for Moore and Taylor Chappell. The Tigers also need to find a replacement for Andrew Wilson at middle linebacker. Michael Scherer has the most experience inside, but don’t be surprised if Mizzou’s coaches move Kentrell Brothers inside at times, too.
Key battle: Really, just take a look at any of the battles in the secondary. The Tigers ranked last in the SEC in pass defense in 2013, but are losing a lot of experience and one of their best players in Gaines. Having rising senior Braylon Webb back is a plus, but filing three starting spots with a lack of quality experience will be quite the job for defensive coordinator Dave Steckel.
Breaking out: The Tigers certainly would have preferred for running back Henry Josey to stay one more season, but there are plenty of guys vying to be his replacement. The one who could make the biggest splash this spring is rising junior Russell Hansbrough, who was second on the team with 685 rushing yards last season. He also had four rushing touchdowns and averaged 6.0 yards per carry. Hansbrough is explosive, agile and tough to tackle. He can bounce off defenders and has the quickness to make guys miss. He also has the strength to grind out extra yards.
Don’t forget about: Many might point to the losses of defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy and wonder who the Tigers will turn to. But Mizzou actually should be fine up front, especially with redshirt senior Markus Golden deciding to stay one more year instead of jumping to the NFL early. Because of Sam and Ealy, Golden flew under the radar last season, but he was still able to finish the season with 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He also had 55 total tackles and has a chance to be one of the SEC’s top pass rushers.
All eyes on: While Maty Mauk held his own during a month as Mizzou’s starting quarterback last season, everyone will be checking on him to see how he responds this spring. While Pinkel has said that it’s an open competition at quarterback, Mauk clearly has the upper hand and is the favorite to land the starting job. Fans have been itching to see him be the guy, but he won’t have James Franklin to lean on for guidance. Mauk is fully capable of stepping in and impressing (again), but a lot of pressure and hype surround him. He threw for more than 1,000 yards last season and had 11 touchdown passes. He fits Mizzou’s offense as good as anyone and has the moxie and confidence to be a solid leader for this team.