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June 30, 2006A year ago at this time, it was the Missouri defense that was the biggest question mark on the team. Was the defensive line big enough to stop anybody? Could the Tigers replace James Kinney at linebacker? Would the Tigers have to score 35 points to win a game?
What a difference a year makes. The Tigers are now expected to have one of the top defensive units in the Big 12, but the offense is on the hot seat. With Brad Smith gone, everyone wonders if the Tigers will be able to put up enough points to be successful. The offensive players have heard the talk.
"As an offensive group, yes," said wideout William Franklin. "We came into that situation my freshman year where the defense would stop, would help us, then to this past year where the offense would step up. This year, we're just trying to put both together where the offense puts up a decent amount of points and the defense holds. We're trying to put this together this year. We feel we have the team."
The questions may abound outside the Tiger locker room, but a little over halfway through summer conditioning drills, one thing the Tiger offense does not lack is confidence.
"The offense is going to be pick your poison," said sophomore quarterback Chase Daniel. "We're going to do what the defense gives us, whether it's running the ball 50 times or throwing it 75. Those guys have come on so strongly this summer and we're so excited for them."
Daniel knows he is the Tiger who will have the spotlight shining brightest. The sophomore from Southlake, Texas is in line to replace Smith and his 60-some school records under center.
"It's hard to replace a living legend," Daniel said. "I've said that before and I'll say it a million times. I put myself in the same situation I was in high school coming into my junior year replacing a record-setting quarterback in Chase Wasson."
Wasson threw for Texas 5A records 4,822 yards and 54 touchdowns while winning just about every award possible as a senior at Southlake Carroll in 2002. He also led the Dragons to the state title. Daniel didn't quite equal the single-season numbers of Wasson, but he did put up 10,000 yards in total offense of his own. He also won 31 of the 32 games he started at quarterback and led Carroll to a 2004 state title. He's stepped into big shoes before.
"You just got to go out there and be your own guy," Daniel said. "No one's going to be able to do what Brad did. No one's going to break the records and that's not what we're worried about. We're worried about wins."
When Daniel says "we" he truly means it. He answers every question as if he is not the starting quarterback, giving Chase Patton and Brandon Coleman plenty of praise and an equal shot to start in early September against Murray State.
"It's me, BC, Chase Patton, Tillman will probably be in the mix. It's everyone just working hard and doing what we can to get better," Daniel said. "No matter who wins it, we're going to have a pretty good year this year."
Humility aside, it will likely be Daniel who takes that first snap as the starter in the post-Smith era. While he does carry confidence, the sophomore is also careful not to let it overflow.
"We don't want to get overly confident. They had that happen. They've seen that happen before in their program," Daniel said, referencing the 5-and-6 season in 2004. "We know what we have, we have the team. We don't want to be known as the team, looking back years down the road, that 2006 team had all the ability in the world, but didn't use it. We don't want to be seen as that."
If they need advice on how to handle being spoken about as a weak link, the Tiger offense needs to go no further than across the line of scrimmage. The defense knows what that is like.
"It's kind of like us last year where we were the big question and then the offense they're gonna be great and the defense has got a lot of questions. It's kind of like the reverse now. We're seeing it from the other side and they're working real hard, they're taking the challenge real well," said defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams. "Those guys, they're working really hard. They're throwing every day. Chase and Brandon Coleman have the wide receivers out every day throwing. Those guys are really being motivated by that."
It worked pretty well for the defense a season ago. Offense, now it's your turn.