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March 23, 2009
Missouri went into last season dreaming of a national title. Reality was the Tigers struggled to win the Big 12 North, then ended the season in the Alamo Bowl.
The Tigers' personnel losses are big ones, and coach Gary Pinkel also has to replace both his coordinators - making this an important spring for the Tigers.
Here's a look at Mizzou as it opens spring practice.
Positions of strength
Luke Lambert and Sean Weatherspoon return to make linebacker the strongest position on the defense. Weatherspoon had 155 tackles and three interceptions in '08. The offensive line also has three returning full-time starters, led by Kurtis Gregory. Guard Austin Wuebbels was a part-time starter.
Help is needed
The Tigers' pass defense ranked 117th among 119 teams in the nation last year and allowed 29 touchdown passes. That was with All-America free safety William Moore in the secondary. He's gone. So are two other starters from a year ago. Mizzou also needs to replace the best quarterback in school history, maybe the most explosive wide receiver in school history, one of the best tight ends in school history and three other offensive starters. That's a lot of offensive firepower gone. Three-quarters of the defensive line is gone, too.
Keep an eye on
WR Rolandis Woodland: Woodland, a redshirt freshman, has great potential, and the Tigers hope it can become great production. He isn't expected to pick up the slack left by the loss of All-America Jeremy Maclin. But Woodland can ease some concerns by distinguishing himself this spring.
SS Kenji Jackson: He had a solid season as a true freshman by posting 62 tackles and grabbing two interceptions in a backup role. He could be a key figure in determining whether the secondary makes significant improvement.
DE Aldon Smith: Opportunities to make an impression at defensive end are there this spring. Both starters from '08 are gone and senior Brian Coulter is sidelined by injury. Smith, a redshirt freshman, needs to take advantage of the situation. He could establish himself as a starter with a strong spring.
His time is now
Three years ago, Del Howard had a strong freshman season at cornerback. However, he has struggled in a backup role at safety the past two years. Both safety jobs are open. The Tigers have some younger guys coming up and brought in a couple of junior college transfers to compete there. Howard needs a strong spring or he'll be a role player again.
Chase Daniel, the most successful quarterback in school history, has completed his eligibility. That leaves a huge void in the offense, and there will be a three-way competition to fill it. Sophomore Blaine Gabbert, once a heralded five-star recruit, figures to emerge as Daniel's successor. He'll have to prove he's as good as advertised while fending off challenges from freshmen Ashton Glaser and Blaine Dalton, both of whom enrolled early. Getting the situation at quarterback settled has to be the first priority this spring.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.