Key Tigers for 2011:
Missouri opens fall camp on Thursday, August 4th. Over the next ten days, PowerMizzou.com is counting down the ten key Tigers for the 2011 season. These are not necessarily the ten best players on the team, but rather the players whose performance we feel will most impact the team's fortunes for the year. We will add a new player to the list each day until we reach the top. All of PowerMizzou.com's camp previews will be free. If you are not yet a member, just try out our free trial.
Quarterback is the most important position in football, and maybe in all of sports. A new quarterback is the most critical player on any team and Missouri is no exception. Blaine Gabbert's numbers weren't astronomical last season, but he guided Missouri to ten wins. Both Gabbert and Chase Daniel won eight games in their first season starting. Franklin's mission is to exceed that number.
Hamilton played in seven games last season. The Tigers won all seven and were stout against the run in all but one. He missed six games. The Tigers lost three and were often gashed by opposing tailbacks (Nebraska, Iowa). How important is a healthy Hamilton in the middle? So important that we were very, very close to making him No. 1 on this list.
Last Year: Played in all 13 games backing up Tim Barnes
Center is one of those positions where you don't notice it until something has gone wrong. Missouri has had an incredible run at the position, starting just four players over the last 14 years. Ruth enters his fourth year in the program as the heir apparent at the spot. He is the only new starter on the offensive line. If he can make the transition from Barnes fairly seamless, the Tiger offense could take off.
For a couple of years, Edwards has been referred to as Missouri's best cover corner. Never was it more evident than at Texas A&M, when he locked up Jeff Fuller. Fuller was a 1,000 yard receiver, but had just five grabs for 63 yards and a garbage time touchdown against the Tigers. Edwards now goes from Missouri's role-playing third corner to the main man out on an island. Can he replicate efforts like the one in College Station on a weekly basis? If so, defense gets a whole lot easier.
After a breakthrough spring, Lawrence was named the team's most improved tailback and vaulted atop the depth chart. While four Tigers will still get carries, could this be the season the highly-touted Texan takes control of the position? He will have to hold off De'Vion Moore and others throughout fall camp, but Lawrence looks to be Missouri's top option in the backfield. With an experienced offensive line and a new quarterback, he should have plenty of chances to prove he's up to the job. Lawrence has shown flashes in two seasons, but must be better at breaking tackles to break off big runs and give the Missouri offense a shot in the arm (or legs).
Last Year: 32 tackles, 11 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 2 FF, 2 starts, played in all 13 games
Yes, Missouri lost Aldon Smith, who was the No. 7 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Yes, it is replacing him with a guy who was actually more productive last year. That's not saying Madison is yet the player that Smith was necessarily, but he burst on the scene with a huge sophomore season. Madison is on the Lombardi and Nagurski watch lists and is a popular first-team all-Big 12 preseason pick. Can you lose a top ten pick and actually be just as good or better at that position? We're about to find out.
Last Year: 90 catches, 762 yards, 5 TD, first-team all-American, Mackey Award finalist
Perhaps the top tight end in the nation and a slam dunk first-team all-Big 12 selection, Egnew gives James Franklin one of America's most sure-handed safety valves and short-yardage targets. Egnew is the most proven player on this list, but there is little doubt that the Tiger offense is at its best when the tight end is a major part of the passing game. Egnew should be among the country's leaders in receptions once again.
Last Year: 18 tackles, 2 pass breakups while playing in all 13 games
White is a leading candidate to step into the starting spot vacated by Jarrell Harrison, who was one of the defense's unsung heroes in 2010. White looks to be one of three new starters in the secondary and will depend on the experience of backfield mate Kenji Jackson early on. White has shown good ball skills at times in practice, but has never been truly thrown into the fire on game day.
Last Year: 13 starts at right guard, honorable mention all-Big 12
Wuebbels is one of three Tigers entering his third year as a starter. He has started the last 26 games. After fighting some penalties as a sophomore, Wuebbels had a much improved junior season. With four starters returning, the line should be a strength. Wuebbels could form with Dan Hoch to form the best right side of an offensive line in the league.
In his first year as a starter, Gooden led the team in tackles as a sophomore. He also made arguably the season's biggest play, a fourth-quarter interception of Landry Jones that led to a two-possession lead over Oklahoma. But last year, Gooden had Andrew Gachkar on the other side to take some of the pressure off of him. This year, it is Gooden expected to be the main man in the middle of the defense. He is on the pre-season Bednarik and Lombardi Watch lists. Phil Steele tabbed him a first-team all-Big 12 performer. If he lives up to the latter, the Tiger defense shouldn't take a step back.