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August 4, 2009

Top ten storylines in fall camp

Nobody will cover fall camp like PowerMizzou.com. We will have analysis, reaction, photos and video from every single practice leading up to the season opener. To get your free trial membership going today, justclick right here.

Fall camp is now just more than two days away. Perhaps more than any other August, there are interesting storylines across the field on both sides of the ball for Missouri. PowerMizzou.com will be at every open practice between Thursday and kickoff against Illinois on the first Saturday in September. Here are the top ten storylines, in no particular order, we'll be watching over the next month:

Who will kick?

Replacing Jeff Wolfert will fall on the foot of either Tanner Mills or Grant Ressel in all likelihood. Both had days where they looked up to the task in the spring and both had days that made observers wonder if the Tigers had a capable kicker. Don't expect this battle to be settled until the final days of camp. We'll also have our eye on any walk-ons that could make the race interesting.

Who will return kicks?

There are no shortage of options to replace Jeremy Maclin as the primary return man. DeVion Moore, Kip Edwards, Gahn McGaffie, Jerrell Jackson and Munir Prince seem to be among the top options, though starters like Carl Gettis and Jared Perry will get looks as well. And don't write off the possibility of a true freshman like Kendial Lawrence or T.J. Moe getting a shot.

What's the role of the tight end?

Missouri has had an all-American at the position each of the last two years, even if neither Martin Rucker or Chase Coffman was your traditional tight end. This year, Andrew Jones is the starter. He is not athletically a match for Coffman and Rucker, but he may be a better blocker than either of them at this stage in his career. Michael Egnew may be more similar to Coffman in terms of being a receiver, though he's not as big or physical. Will the tight ends be involved in the running game more than in years past or will Jones and Egnew be asked to fill similar roles as Rucker and Coffman?

Is the offensive line as good as we think?

Most who follow this team believe the line will be the strength of the offense. The Tigers bring back four players who started at the end of last season and add Dan Hoch as a replacement for Colin Brown at right tackle. Nothing will ease Blaine Gabbert's transition to starter more than a solid front five. Speaking of which...

How good is Gabbert?

We have said over and over he had as good a spring as anyone could expect. But is he ready to take over the offense without missing a beat from the past couple of years? We know Gabbert has a cannon for an arm, but the two most important questions are these: How accurate is he? And can he take care of the football? Every throw Gabbert makes will be watched closely by everyone in practice. No doubt it's the biggest factor in this team's success, or lack thereof.

How hurt was Derrick Washington last season?

It's been well-documented that the Tiger running back battled injuries for about three-quarters of the season. Even before the news came out that he was hurt, fans noticed a lack of acceleration and breakway speed later in the season. Is Washington all the way back to the player that ran roughshod over Illinois in last year's opener? As much as anything, this is the offensive focal point of fall camp.

Is Danario Alexander ready to become a star?

Again and again we've talked about his potential over the last three years. And, in flashes, he's shown it (ask Nebraska or Kansas fans). Word is Alexander is all the way back from a variety of injuries and looking better than he's ever looked as a Tiger. If that's true, and he can stay healthy, Alexander is good enough to challenge for first-team all-Big 12 honors (yes, even with Dezmon Briscoe and Dez Bryant in the league). The Tigers are in search of a go-to receiver and Alexander is the most likely player to fill the role.

How much better is the pass rush?

If spring ball is an indication, defensive end is the strongest position on this team. Jacquies Smith and Brian Coulter enter fall camp as the starters, but Aldon Smith is right there. Aldon was probably the best player on either side of the ball in the spring. Add in the potential of Brad Madison, who looked at home after moving from the offensive line prior to spring ball, and the Tigers could be much improved here.

Can the Tigers cover anyone?

Yes, it might have been tied into the pass rush, but the secondary was dreadful a season ago. Gone are three of the four starters. Is that a good thing because the pass defense was poor a year ago anyway? Or is it bad because even though the pass defense was poor, those were apparently the best players Missouri had? Carl Gettis and Kenji Jackson are back. The potential starters at the other two spots include Kip Edwards, Kevin Rutland, Trey Hobson, Munir Prince and Robert Steeples at corner with Jarrell Harrison, Jasper Simmons, Del Howard and Hardy Ricks at safety. It's anyone's guess who earns either job.

Which freshmen will play?

It's the major storyline of every fall camp. The Tigers have played anywhere between five and eight first-year players in most of the last few seasons. A couple of those have usually jumped up to play significant roles like Gettis, Kenji Jackson, Alexander and Jared Perry. Who will it be this season? The obvious candidate is Kendial Lawrence due to a fairly thin depth chart at running back. Moe should also get a long look. But every year, there are a couple of freshmen that come out of nowhere to see the field. Candidates this year could include Michael Sam, L'Damian Washington, Marvin Foster and Donavan Bonner.

Nobody will cover fall camp like PowerMizzou.com. We will have analysis, reaction, photos and video from every single practice leading up to the season opener. To get your free trial membership going today, justclick right here.


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