Defense strong, QB still uncertain as football finishes spring practice

Mizzou's defense dominated Saturdays Black & Gold scrimmage. (Photo by Nick Gerhardt)

By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director

Spring drills for 2011 Missouri Tigers football team came to an end Saturday with the annual Black and Gold intersquad scrimmage. And while most of the discussion about the upcoming season has centered around the battle between James Franklin and Tyler Gabbert to see who will emerge as the Tigers starting quarterback, fans were reminded Saturday that defense will be a strength.

“I’d like to think with our depth and personal, we can be a real good team again defensively,” said Tiger coach Gary Pinkel. “We got a lot of guys on the defensive line. We got 3 starters back, three guys who’ve started at linebackers, I think our safeties and corners are coming around, which I thought they would, that doesn’t surprise me. Tavon Bolden had a great spring, he’s got a William Moore type ability, so we got a lot of things in place.”

Another strong point in the defensive backfield may be emerging in cornerback E.J. Gaines, a sophomore from Independence, Mo. “He might take my job some day. You’re gonna notice him on Saturday, he’s going to make a lot of plays. You all will know who he is,” raved teammate Kip Edwards. Gaines made an excellent play intercepting a Blaine Gabbert pass, and broke up two other passes in addition to making two tackles. Reserve free safety Braylon Webb led the team with seven tackles.

The first team offense scored twice in the first half of the scrimmage, taking on the 2nd stringers, with Grant Ressel hitting a 25 yard field goal and later with Franklin hitting Columbia Rock Bridge product Brandon Gerau on a 1 yard pass. The reserves scored on a 32-yard pass from Franklin to Marcus Murphy and a 43-yard field goal from backup Trey Barrow.

As the team moves into the summer, it’s offense, and in particular quarterback that’ll dominate most discussion about the upcoming Mizzou season. Both Franklin and Gabbert expressed some satisfaction with their play Saturday, but both also saw need for improvement.

Asked about his main goal for the day, Franklin said he wanted to “move the offense. Always get positive yards, the quarterback affects what everybody else does on offense.” He said his performance for the day was “pretty good,” and that he wanted to spend the summer working on relationships. “We want to be on the same page even when things break down.” And when the topic of his spot at No. 1 on the depth chart came up, Franklin said “I can never be comfortable with Ty, he’s a hard worker so I know he’s going to come back and get some push in there, I just need to continue to work hard.”

Meanwhile, Gabbert, the younger brother of former Tiger starter Blaine Gabbert discussed his summer plans. “I just gotta hit the weight room hard, get better every day in summer ball and continue to build that comfort level with the receivers, and hopefully all that will carry over into two-a-days.”

Asked about the play of his quarterbacks, Tiger offensive coordinator Dave Yost said, “The two QBs have gotten a lot better, and whoever comes out of the group we’re going to have a good quarterback, and we got enough good things around them to take pressure off them, make plays and make those guys look good”

“We’ll have a depth chart coming out of spring, and that’ll be how we start two-a-days, and there’ll still be competition. We still have a lot of depth at a lot of positions” added Yost.

As far as statistics from Saturday’s game, Franklin might be seen as having the advantage. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 116 yards and the two TDs. Meanwhile, Gabbert struggled at times, although often with 2nd string teammates going up against the starting Tiger D. He completed 8 of 22 for 48 yards and had an interception. And while Ashton Glaser has generally been considered as being somewhat behind the top two on the depth chart, he made a case to be included in the conversation Saturday with a strong performance, completing 14 of 17 for 95 yards.

De’Vion Moore led the way for the Tigers rushing with 57 yards on five carries, while Kendial Lawrence had 18 yards on four carries. Backup Marcus Murphy was quite impressive with 18 yards on three carries, and the Desoto, Texas sophomore led the team with 43 yards on four receptions.

The quarterbacks aren’t the only ones preparing for a lot of work this summer. The team will begin work soon with Pat Ivey, the Tigers Strength and Conditioning coach. “Coach Ivey is going to work us until we can’t be worked any more!” exclaimed defensive back Kip Edwards.”It’s all about mental toughness, and then, with that mental toughness we bring it into the season and hopefully we’ll be 13-0 and playing in New Orleans. We want to be Big 12 Champions, and we want to be National Champions.”

The understanding of Ivey’s importance extends beyond the players. Coach Pinkel said of the off season conditioning program and the difference it makes for his players “It’s mammoth. The energy level, how hard they work, the whole summer ball is hugely important to the success of our program. And we got the best. Pat Ivey, the best there is out there, so we’re very fortunate.”

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