Big 12 spring practice preview: Missouri

Missouri Tigers
2009: 8-5 (4-4)

Missouri kicked off spring practice on Tuesday without its top two leading receivers from 2009 — “Super” Danario Alexander and Jared Perry, who both are moving on after graduation. Alexander led the nation in receiving yards with 1,781 while adding 14 touchdowns; Perry added six scores to go along with his 696 yards. The Tigers were finally able to see Alexander emerge, as the wideout put his injury issues aside to break the school’s single-season marks for receptions, receiving yards and touchdown set by current Philadelphia Eagle Jeremy Maclin in 2008.

The pressure now falls on junior receivers Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp, who combined for 60 catches, nearly 900 yards and five scores last season. Because of the spread offense run in Columbia, Mo., expect Jackson and Kemp to settle in nicely as the top two targets for quarterback Blaine Gabbert. No other MU wideout had more than five catches in 2009, but Rolandis Woodland and T.J. Moe will likely fill the third and fourth receiving slots.

Head coach Gary Pinkel’s expectations for Gabbert in 2010 are much higher as the signal caller gets ready for his second full season. Pinkel expects Gabbert to be more confident and take more responsibility for the offense — exactly what predecessor Chase Daniel did as he matured with the offense. Gabbert completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,593 yards to go along with 24 touchdowns against just nine picks in 2009, so another year in the offense — despite working with younger skill players — should benefit him. Stats won’t necessarily tell the story for Gabbert in 2010. However, his leadership skills will — and Pinkel believes he’s ready for the challenge.

Although the running game is not the focal point of the Tigers’ offense, Derrick Washington gives the squad a dangerous weapon when utilized. He rushed for 865 yards on 190 carries with 10 scores in 2009, and Pinkel has also been impressed with the workouts of Kendial Lawrence, who played well as a freshman. Expect to see more of a two-back system. In addition, a more experienced offensive line is expected to run block and pass protect more consistently, helping not just the running game but also to keep Gabbert standing upright.

While Mizzou does bring back two starting linebackers, the one not returning was the heart and soul of the defense the past few seasons — Sean Weatherspoon. He led the Tigers with 111 tackles and also racked up 4

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