There is no more compelling storyline at the beginning of fall camps around the country that one-on-one position battles. While it's true all players are trying to simply get better, there are a handful of spots on the field at which two teammates are basically in a showdown to find out who can win a job. The Missouri Tigers have a number of those situations this fall. PowerMizzou.com examines the position battles that will be most closely contested when fall camp opens on August 8th.
This one is the granddaddy of them all. No battle will be more hotly contested or more heavily scrutinized than the contest to see who gets Missouri's first carry of the season (well, that will likely be Brad Smith, but you get the point).
With Damien Nash gone a year early to the NFL, Marcus Woods and Tony Temple enter camp in a virtual deadlock for the honors. Woods has the edge in experience, Temple had the better spring.
Both players will get their fair share of carries and the season totals will likely end up about even. But in the Tiger offense, only one can start. Both enter this season as sophomores so there is no advantage as far as a long-term plan. Temple will start the fall atop the depth chart in all likelihood because Woods is coming off a spring injury. Each practice will basically be a contest to see who performs better. This one will likely not be decided until after practices are closed to the media on August 25th.
PowerMizzou.com prediction: Woods wins the job for opening day based on experience, but Temple ends the season with more carries.
Starting Offensive Guard
The job held down by Joe Gianino last season is the one most open on an offensive front that is looking to rebound from a fairly dreadful 2004.
Junior Mike Cook stands to inherit the position, but junior college transfer Matt Russell was brought in to challenge him. With the switch in offensive scheme, neither player really has an edge for having been in the system any longer. In addition, neither has ever started a game on the Division One level.
Again, this looks to be a spot that is pretty much even up heading into August drills. Russell has an advantage over many juco transfers in that he was on campus for spring ball. Junior college players aren't brought in at semester so they can sit.
PowerMizzou.com prediction: Russell is the starter, but both play about evenly.
This is the only one in the group that does not involve a starter. We feel confident saying Missouri is secure there. Brandon Coleman and Chase Patton will battle it out for the job daily. Like the tailback job, this one will go down to the wire.
The mistake made in assessing this one is assuming Missouri will play for the future. If that were the case, Patton, a ballyhooed recruit and a redshirt freshman, would get the job. Missouri can't afford to play for the future. The Tigers need to win now.
That said, the spot also is not going to go automatically to Coleman. It will go to the player who has the best August because this duo enters the fall fairly even. Don't worry about the starter in 2006, that will be decided next August.
PowerMizzou.com prediction: Coleman wins the job, but both see mop-up action.
Starting Defensive Tackle
Talk about your major league question marks. Lorenzo Williams seems safe at one spot, but the other tackle job is about as open as it can get.
Earl Stephens, Josh Barbo and Scott Wheatley will head into camp as the major players. But they need to keep an eye on junior college transfers Demarcus Scott and George Lane.
Stephens has the edge in experience, being the only player who has been at the position for more than one spring outside of Lane. Barbo gets the nod as far as potential because he's just a sophomore and rocketed up the depth chart in spring ball. Wheatley had the best spring session of any of the five.
This is not just the spot with the most candidates for a job, it's also the one that will likely have more of an impact on Missouri's 2005 season than any other. The Tigers would like three of these five, at a minimum, to prove they're capable of playing a role.
PowerMizzou.com prediction: Wheatley wins the job with Barbo and Scott as the second-stringers.
Starting Defensive End
Who starts opposite Xzavie Jackson? The question really boils down to one thing: Is Brian Smith ready to be an every-down player or is he a career situational specialist who will come in on passing downs?
It is rumored that Smith has put on some weight in the offseason and is ready to stand up to opposing offensive linemen on running plays as well as being a sack specialist. If that turns out not to be true, you can't find a bad review of redshirt freshman Stryker Sulak, who has a first step to rival Smith, but is quite a bit bigger. He is also two years younger.
Figuring into the debate as well will be junior college transfers Jamar Smith, if he stays at end, and Chad Marshall, also a candidate to move.
PowerMizzou.com prediction: Brian Smith gets the nod with Sulak spelling Jackson when he needs a rest.
We feel confident that Marcus Bacon and Derrick Ming will take two of the spots. That leaves one open. For now, it seems that Dedrick Harrington or David Richard will get that spot.
While the redshirt freshmen certainly have promise, it is more likely that the juniors will be more ready to play a major role. Harrington and Richard both enter this season as big-time recruits who have yet to live up to the potential, even by their own admission. Both players are in a make-or-break camp. If they lose the job to a redshirt freshman this year, they may finish out their Tiger careers as backups.
PowerMizzou.com prediction: Harrington wins the job. He's shown more flashes so far than Richard.
No, we're not doubting that Jason Simpson will start. The other spot, at this time, seems to be between David Overstreet and juco transfer Darnell Terrell.
Both bring extraordinary athleticism to the position. The edge Overstreet has is in experience, having started games in two separate seasons as a Tiger. Terrell is the new kid on the block who has the recruitniks all fired up.
Both will see the field a ton this season, but Terrell might not necessarily do so as a safety.
PowerMizzou.com prediction: Overstreet starts at safety, Terrell moves over to corner during the year and starts in 2006.
Matt Hoenes was not great last season, but he was not nearly as bad as the rap he has taken in the offseason. Matt Casaday comes in as a rarity: a true freshman punter on scholarship.
Either way, Missouri has to get this position fixed and do so in a hurry. A staunch defense hid major problems the Tigers had in losing the field position battle last season, at least to a certain degree. Hoenes performed admirably, outside of one game, when thrust into a position few expected he would be in at the start of the season. But it also says something when the staff goes out and offers a scholarship to a player at a position that is often given to the best available walk-on.
PowerMizzou.com prediction: Casaday wins the job from day one.
Over the next few days, we will continue to preview the Tigers as they set to open camp on Monday. PowerMizzou.com will also be at every open practice throughout fall camp for the Tigers. To talk about it with other Tiger fans, visit our premium forum, The Tigers' Lair.