July 7, 2008

Countdown to Camp: Ten stories to watch

PowerMizzou.com will preview fall camp extensively over the next four weeks, including previews at every position and individual looks at players who must step up to make 2008 a success. If you are not yet a premium subscriber, click here to start your free seven-day trial today!.

The most anticipated season in Missouri football history kicks off in exactly four weeks. The Tigers' first practice is set for Monday, August 4. No media outlet will have Tiger fans more prepared for fall camp than PowerMizzou.com. Over the next five weeks, we will provide daily previews of major storylines entering camp. We begin today with our top ten stories to watch this fall:

10. Can Garrett take the next step?

When Pig Brown went down midway through last season, most Tiger fans wondered how Mizzou could replace him. In came William Moore, who was just as good as, if not better than, Brown had been for the second half of the season. Justin Garrett stepped into Moore's role in the second half of the season. He wasn't bad at all, but he wasn't quite as good as Moore had been as the second safety. The Tigers know what they'll get out of Willy Mo this year. If Garrett can be a strong second safety, Mizzou should have the best back line tandem in the Big 12.

9. Who hits the quarterback?

Lorenzo Williams led Missouri in sacks last year. He is the only starter gone from the defense. Ziggy Hood should provide a good push up the middle, but Mizzou needs a big-time pass rusher on the outside. Stryker Sulak has been that guy at times, but the Tigers need more consistency from him as a senior. The game gets a whole lot easier when you can pressure the opposing passer without having to commit to a blitz.

8. Which Perry shows up?

As a true freshman Jared Perry looked like a star in the making in the Big 12. Last season, he caught just 13 passes and struggled with the drops. This season, Perry is slated as the third starter and with Danario Alexander out for at least the first third of the season, the Tigers need another wideout to take pressure off of all-American Jeremy Maclin.

7. Can Gabbert challenge Patton?

There is no doubt who starts at quarterback. There didn't seem to be much doubt as to who would be the backup. However, when Dominic Grooms left the program, the Tigers suddenly found themselves staring at a 2009 season where they could have no quarterbacks on the roster who have ever taken a live snap. Therefore, in an ideal world, incoming freshman Blaine Gabbert would benefit from some action this season. But it is tough to justify giving any meaningful snaps to a third-string QB. Can Chase Patton prove that he is ready to lead the Tigers if Daniel were to go down? If so, he has to be the second-stringer. If this is a close race, the long term future of the program may be better off if Gabbert is the backup.

6. How much will Hoch play?

Gary Pinkel says he has never played a true freshman offensive lineman. That could well change this season. Dan Hoch already has the size to play in the Big 12. But does he have the skill? That question will have to be answered in camp. It would be a surprise if Hoch didn't see action this fall. The question is how much and at what position?

5. Which redshirts are ready?

Players like Chris Earnhardt, Michael Keck, DeVion Moore, Trey Hobson, Terrell Resonno and Dominique Hamilton all made strong spring impressions. Which of those players, and which others who sat out last season to learn, will be ready to crack the two deep and make a major contribution? It is one of the major intrigues every August.

4. How's the health at linebacker?

Sean Weatherspoon says he is all the way back from off-season surgery. But at last check, Andrew Gachkar and Van Alexander were still not going through 7-on-7 drills. That leaves the Tigers looking to Luke Lambert as a starter and Steve Redmond as a major contributor as the fourth linebacker as of now. Will Gachkar and/or Alexander be ready? If so, how soon?

3. Can Washington carry the load?

Sophomore Derrick Washington took hold of the starting tailback job in the spring. He has plenty of promise and brings an element to the passing game that is above and beyond what previous Tiger tailbacks have brought under Pinkel. Is he ready to be a No. 1 back and replace Tony Temple, the only Tiger running back ever to post back to back 1,000-yard seasons?

2. How much has Harry improved?

It is no secret that the biggest question mark on the Tiger team at this point in time is the punting game. Gone is Adam Crossett who was mostly steady, if not spectacular, in the last few seasons. In his place is Jake Harry, who seemed to struggle in practice to make the leap from the junior college level. No matter how good the offense is, there will be times the Tigers will punt. A bad punt or a blocked punt can turn around a game as fast as any play in football. Mizzou doesn't have to be great here, but it has to be better than it was this spring.

1. Playing the role of favorite

The top question on our board may also be the one we know the least about coming out of camp. Last season, Missouri surprised some people. They will surprise no one this year. Every major poll will have the Tigers ranked in the pre-season top ten. They will likely be favorites in 11 of their 12 games. They have a giant bullseye on their backs. Can they handle being the hunted rather than the hunter? We may not know before Mizzou battles Illinois in St. Louis in the season opener.

PowerMizzou.com will preview fall camp extensively over the next five weeks, including previews at every position and individual looks at players who must step up to make 2008 a success. If you are not yet a premium subscriber, click here to start your free seven-day trial today!.



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