For the first time in three years, Missouri has a potential question mark at quarterback as it enters fall camp. For the first time in four years, the starter coming out of camp will not be Brad Smith.
No position will draw as much scrutiny from fans and media during fall camp than QB. Quite simply, the question is this: Can an offense truly be better after losing its best player? The answer to that question will determine just how far the 2006 Tigers can go.
In Smith, the Tigers are losing a player who accounted for more than 70% of the offense a season ago. However, they may also be gaining a number of other playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. When plays broke down over the last four years, it was Smith and Smith alone who was asked to bail Mizzou out. This year, defenses will not be able to focus so much of their attention on a single player.
Without question, the Tiger quarterback will be asked to put the ball in the hands of his teammates more. Gary Pinkel has already said the tailbacks will have significantly more carries. Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman are the best tight end combo in the country. William Franklin and Brad Ekwerekwu lead a receiving corps long on potential, but short on production.
The job is Chase Daniel's to lose entering fall camp. He was groomed for the spot last season while playing a few snaps in all but one of the Tigers' games. Daniel performed very well in leading the Tigers back from a two-touchdown deficit against Iowa State, but was unspectacular otherwise. While Daniel put up great numbers in high school and is, by all accounts, a fantastic leader, he has had just one stand-out quarter against a Division One defense.
While Daniel has a firm hold on the starting spot, he will not hang on to it without a solid fall camp. Brandon Coleman is the only other Tiger to take a snap in a live game. He has not played much, but he has looked decent in mop-up duty over the last two seasons. Coleman is not the athlete Smith was, but is the best athlete on the depth chart. He has also been in the program for four years. Coleman would not be a long-term fix, but if Daniel falters or is injured, he would be the most likely man to step in.
Chase Patton was one of the most highly regarded recruits Pinkel has landed at Missouri, but he has yet to emerge in two seasons as a Tiger. He has the best arm on the team (it's not all that close), but he has also struggled to hang on to the ball during practices the last two seasons. Unless he can significantly cut down on the fumbles and interceptions in fall camp, Patton will not have much of a chance to crack the two-deep.
Missouri brought in two quarterbacks in the Class of 2006, but neither is likely to challenge for playing time this fall. J.P. Tillman and Dominic Grooms will both be interesting to watch during this season, but if either comes anywhere near shedding his redshirt, something has gone drastically wrong with Missouri's season.