Posted: Mar 11, 2014 6:00 PM by Corey Miller, KOMU 8 Sports Digital Producer
Updated: Mar 11, 2014 10:40 PM
COLUMBIA - The 2014-2015 Missouri Tigers football season officially got underway Tuesday afternoon with the first spring practice of the year. The home team taking Faurot Field this year will certainly look a bit different from that SEC East Championship team of a year ago.
Twelve total starters will return for the Tigers this season, five on both offense and defense, as well as junior kicker Andrew Baggett, and senior punter Christian Brinser.
On offense, sophomore Maty Mauk seems to have a tight grasp on the starting quarterback job. The Ohio native gained valuable experience last season in the wake of an injury to starter James Franklin. Mauk led Missouri to a 3-1 record as the starting QB last year, and threw 11 touchdowns to only two interceptions throughout all of last season. Mauk will be pushed to earn the job this spring by junior Corbin Berkstresser, as well as underclassmen Trent Hosick and Eddie Printz.
In regards to the offensive line, the Tigers return junior Evan Boehm, senior Mitch Morse, and junior Connor McGovern. Gone from the line is Max Copeland, who was one of Missouri's top senior leaders last season. His spot will look to be filled by senior Anthony Gatti, and junior Mitch Hall.
At the running back position, the Tigers will return both senior Marcus Murphy, and junior Russell Hansbrough. Gone is fan-favorite and 2013-2014 starter Henry Josey, who declared for the NFL Draft this past off season. Sophomore Morgan Steward is expected to garner more carries this year in the place of Josey.
The wide-receiver position was an enormous strength for Missouri last season. The NFL Draft came calling for graduates Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington over the off season, and junior Dorial Green-Beckham is the only returning starting wide out. Green-Beckham had a break out 2013-2014 campaign for Missouri racking up 883 receiving yards, and 12 touchdowns. The Tigers will not be without multiple weapons this year though. Seniors Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt have ample in-game experience, and will look to get their shot at cracking the starting lineup.
On defense, there are multiple holes to fill for the Tigers.
In the trenches, gone are 2013-2014 Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam, and projected first round NFL Draft prospect, Kony Ealy. That dynamic duo of defensive ends totaled 17.5 total sacks together last season as the anchors of the Missouri defensive line. However, the anticipated replacements for Sam and Ealy are more than prepared for the spotlight. Senior Markus Golden is expected to play a key role on the Missouri defense this year, and led all Tiger linemen with 55 tackles in 2013-2014. Junior Shane Ray, who scored the game-clinching touchdown in the 2014 Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma St. off of a Michael Sam sack, is also expected to play a key role for the Missouri defense this season. Ray had nine tackles for loss and four and a half sacks in the 2013-2014 season.
At linebacker, Andrew Wilson, the 10th leading tackler in Missouri history, has graduated and left a rather large void to fill. Junior weak side linebacker Kentrell Brothers is coming off a fantastic season that saw him make 70 tackles, and grab three interceptions. Brothers is expected to possibly test the waters as a middle linebacker this spring to fill the spot of Wilson. Senior Darvin Ruise and sophomore Michael Scherer are also names to watch in the fight for starting jobs.
On the back end of the defense, the loss of cornerbacks E.J. Gaines and Randy Ponder leave the Tigers in a position of relying on production from underclassmen. Sophomore cornerbacks Aarion Penton and Josh Gibson had a gratuitous amount of playing time last season, and look to be the favorites to earn the starting CB jobs this spring.
The safeties will be anchored by returning starter, senior Braylon Webb. Webb had 89 tackles and three interceptions for the Tigers this past season. Junior Ian Simon's eight starts in 2013-2014 also set him up well to earn a starting safety role this season.
Missouri's annual Black and Gold Game will take place on April 19 at Memorial Stadium. The Tigers' first regular season game of the year is on August 30 against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.