Spring stories to watch

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Though it seems just a few days ago the 2009 football season came to a close (for those who haven't blocked out that final game), spring ball 2010 is just around the corner. The Tigers will open spring drills in less than a month. PowerMizzou.com will be a Tiger fan's complete guide to spring ball. Here are the major storylines we'll be watching in camp:
The Quarterback Battle

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There is no doubt about the starter. Blaine Gabbert will hold that job. But spring will be more about the four guys behind him than about Gabber. Jimmy Costello was last season's backup and freshman Ashton Glaser was the third-stringer during a redshirt season. Those two figure to get plenty of competition from freshmen Tyler Gabbert and James Franklin, both of whom have enrolled early to compete for playing time.
The way the Tigers handled the quarterback job while Blaine Gabbert was injured last season indicated to many that they weren't comfortable putting either of the backups in a meaningful situation. Costello and Glaser should be improved from last season, but have they done so enough to hold off the youngsters? If one of the freshmen does win the backup job, does that mean he avoids a redshirt? And could the way this race shapes up impact the future plans for any of the current reserves? Plenty of questions to be answered on this front.
The Running Game
Throughout spring and fall ball last year, we heard about how Missouri had the best 1-2 punch it had ever had at running back. And, yet, the running game remained virtually the same as previous years...and actually a little less productive. For the first time since 2004, Missouri did not have a 1,000-yard rusher and the top three tailbacks combined to average just 4.7 yards per carry.
Many seem to believe the issue with the running game has not been the talent, but the design. Will we see new wrinkles in the ground game, which could include a more traditional use of the tight end? And with the top three rushers from a season ago returning, can any of the incoming freshman trio impress enough to see time?
Manning the Middle
Dominique Hamilton came on strong in his sophomore season and was Missouri's best interior lineman. But the Tigers lose Jaron Baston and don't have many players that have seen a lot of action at defensive tackle. Terrell Resonno has the inside line to a starting job, but he did last spring and fall as well. Behind Resonno, there is plenty of depth, but not much experience. Jimmy Burge, George White, Chris Earnhardt and Marvin Foster should all get a chance to push for playing time this spring. Two of the four figure to be in the rotation. What we don't know at this time is which two that will be.
On the Back Line
For two consecutive years, the Tiger pass defense has ranked among the worst in America. Mizzou brings back all four starters in the secondary. In fact, they lost only two safeties out of the defensive backs that saw much time at all last season. The returning talent will have to have a solid spring because a half-dozen potential defensive backs will hit campus in the summer. In addition to the personnel, will we see changes to the scheme? Gary Pinkel told the Kansas City Star this week that the coaching staff was talking to a lot of people to analyze what they've been doing in coverage. It will be interesting to see if the defensive scheme looks any different to shore up the problems of the last couple of seasons.
Who Replaces Super 'Nario?
Last spring, the big question was who would replace Jeremy Maclin. While neither had been a superstar in previous seasons, both Danario Alexander and Jared Perry had been starters and had plenty of experience. There is much less of that this season. Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp both saw plenty of action last season and Jackson in particular played well the second half of the year. But his 37 catches for 458 yards last year is the most production Missouri has returning. The Tigers have thrown the ball well with a number of different receivers over the last few seasons and with Gabbert as a junior, that should continue. The question is, who replaces Alexander as the top target? Danario had the best season of any receiver in school history and many games was just about the only direction Gabbert looked. Missouri will have to replace the departed senior as a group and it starts in spring ball.
Who Takes Charge?
The Tigers lose their best player on each side of the ball in Alexander and Sean Weatherspoon. But not only is the talent gone, so is the leadership. Along with Baston, there is no doubt those two were the emotional center of last year's team. Is Gabbert ready to completely make this his team? Can Derrick Washington take on an expanded role both on the field and in the locker room? And who replaces the vocal leadership of Weatherspoon, perhaps the most charismatic player Pinkel has ever had at Missouri? In short, whose team are the 2010 Tigers? We'll find out next month.
PowerMizzou.com will cover spring football wire to wire, beginning with individual position previews on Monday.
Nobody covers the Tigers like PowerMizzou.com. If you are not yet a member, just try out our free seven-day trial to keep up with the team on a daily basis.