Missouri opened spring practice with some good news, some bad news and a few noticeable adjustments to the Tigers’ depth chart.
Coach Barry Odom announced an early return and a suspension during his news conference at the start of spring practice.
Odom said defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. is “way ahead of schedule” in his recovery from a torn ACL, which ended his 2016 season early. In fact, although Beckner is limited now, Odom expects him to be able to participate in some individual drills by the end of spring practice.
In December, Odom said that Beckner – a former five-star recruit – could become “Mizzou’s best defensive lineman ever.” He is currently listed first on the depth chart, and he has the potential to be a first-team All-SEC performer this fall.
Odom said running back Nate Strong has been suspended for a violation of team rules, and no timetable for his return has yet been announced. Strong had been third on the depth chart since arriving as the nation’s second-ranked junior college transfer in 2016, but his uncertain status leaves questions of depth at running back. Leading rusher Damarea Crockett was suspended at the end of 2016 after his arrest on marijuana possession charges, although Crockett is now back with the team.
If Strong is away for an extended time, it could open up an opportunity for redshirt freshman Dawson Downing or true freshman Isaiah Miller.
Odom said he’s well aware of the Tigers’ defensive woes from 2016, and he’s taking action to fix them. “We spent a lot of time looking at our tackling — or lack thereof — last year and fundamentally studied a lot of those things in the offseason,” he said.
Missouri finished outside the top 90 in every major category of team defense, a major reason for the Tigers’ last-place finish in the SEC East. This season, they’ll try to improve while losing Charles Harris, Aarion Penton, Michael Scherer and Donavin Newsom.
The depth chart, which wasn’t available to the public in 2016 spring practice, shows a few indications that could indicate some key patterns in Missouri’s season.
* Crockett, who will be a sophomore in 2017, and senior Ish Witter are listed as co-starters at tailback.
* Similarly, senior Alec Abeln and junior Sam Bailey are considered co-starters at center, with Adam Ploudre the starter at right guard. Those three rotated off and on for much of 2016 – Abeln started six games, Bailey nine and Ploudre seven.
* In a continuing sign of the uncertainty of the Tigers’ special teams, Nick Bartolotta, a former walk-on transfer from Kansas, is listed as co-starter at kicker alongside Tucker McCann, who struggled in his freshman season.
* Christian Holmes and DeMarkus Acy, both sophomores, look to have the early edge for the starting cornerback jobs. The Tigers must replace All-SEC corner Penton, one of the few bright spots on defense in 2016.
* Cale Garrett, who had the most tackles (47) among returning linebackers, doesn’t appear to have a starting spot. He’s currently listed as the No. 2 inside linebacker behind senior Eric Beisel.
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