Continuing the QB line at Missouri

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri offensive coordinator David Yost sat down in the quarterbacks' meeting room, pulled out his cell phone and fired off a text to his former quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, alerting the soon-to-be first-round draft pick that Missouri's first spring practice was hours away.

"You'd make my life a lot easier if you were sitting here on the right side of me in meetings," Yost wrote.

But Gabbert isn't. He's been preparing for the draft, and Yost -- the Tigers' third-year offensive coordinator -- is preparing for his first season running Missouri's offense without Gabbert behind center.

For Missouri, whose quarterbacks have been coached by Yost since Gary Pinkel and his staff arrived in 2001, it's the first real quarterback competition since some redshirt freshman named Brad Smith beat out senior Kirk Farmer to win the job in 2002.

"Each guy kind of has his own thing that he does really well, but they’re all alike enough, and they can all throw the ball really well, and for the most part, the offense won’t majorly change for whoever wins the job," Yost said.

Sophomore James Franklin is the front-runner after winning the No. 2 job as a true freshman last season and earning spot duty as a runner between the tackles and in short-yardage situations.

Sophomore Ashton Glaser has the No. 2 spot currently after enrolling early in spring 2009 and spending two seasons in the program.

Blaine Gabbert's younger brother, redshirt freshman Tyler Gabbert, entered spring as the No. 3, but possesses the strongest arm in the group, Yost says.

"They’re going to decide it," Yost said. "If one guy would separate themselves, that’d be good, but it’d still probably continue on throughout the summer."

Though the specific experience of a quarterback competition is foreign, Pinkel maintains that competition isn't.

"There’s no difference if we’re talking about this position or if we’re talking about the offensive guard," Pinkel said. "You’ve got to perform and you’ve got to perform consistently, and you’ve got to play better than the guy in front of you. That’s how it works."

Casual Missouri fans may think of Franklin as a runner. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound quarterback did run well last season, albeit with power and shiftiness as opposed to the blinding speed of Smith, who started four seasons at Missouri. But Franklin is plenty more, and now is his chance to showcase it.

"Not that James couldn’t throw it, but we thought, well, if we’re going to throw it, we better let No. 11 [Gabbert] throw it," Yost said. "There's a reason why he was so talented."

A player's potential does nothing to influence the coach's decision. As much as the staff would like one player to separate himself, if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen.

Want the job? Show them who you are. Who a quarterback could be doesn't matter at Missouri.

"That’s the beauty of how we do it," Pinkel said, "and the reason we don’t -- I don’t think as coaches, I don’t do it and our coaches don’t do it -- we don’t think in our head, 'Well, this guy might be The Guy, or I might think that guy might be The Guy.' And the reason we don’t is it taints your evaluation. Let the players decide what’s going to happen and we’ll just see it and evaluate it."

As freshmen, Gabbert and his predecessor, Chase Daniel, had potential and talents that differed enough from the starter that they earned meaningful playing time. But once the torch was passed in the spring, they were clearly better than the passers below them on the depth chart.

This time around, it hasn't happened yet. But regardless of how far the separation is, Missouri will have a No. 1, a No.2 and a No. 3 quarterback leaving spring, just like it did to begin spring practice.

"We’re trying to get better because we all want the spot. Even though I'm in the No. 1 spot right now, that doesn’t mean I’m going to keep it," Franklin said. "I know that’s what a lot of people expect, and that’s what their guess is, but that doesn’t mean anything."

He says he feels the added pressure of those expectations, but he also felt more comfortable this spring after getting a chance to adjust to the speed of the college game with an early spring and a season on the field already under his belt.

"It’s kind of hard not to think, 'Oh, I’ve got all this pressure, I’m supposed to be the starter and this and that,'" Franklin said. "I just think it’ll help me have that edge."

He threw just 14 passes last season, completing 11 for 106 yards and a touchdown, in addition to running 23 times for 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including one in Missouri's win over then-No. 1 Oklahoma.

Those 14 passes in real games, though, are 14 more than Tyler Gabbert and Glaser have thrown in their careers combined.

"Everyone messes up, but when I go out there, it should look like someone that’s gone through it before," Franklin said. "I don't want to have thoughts like, 'Hey, well, this guy is a sophomore or a freshman and he’s going to make those mistakes,' so I should look maybe not on the level of a veteran, but closer to that than a rookie."

The coaches wanted this competition. They signed two quarterbacks in the 2010 class so this would be a three-man battle instead of a two-man battle. Now, they've got it. All that's left is for someone to win it.

"I think we’re going to be pretty good at quarterback," Yost said. "He’s going to be the least experienced member of our offense, a lot of other guys will be counted on, but I think we’re going to be fine at that position with whichever guy separates himself whenever that happens."