COLUMBIA - If you take a look at the Missouri football depth chart, it shows a lot of bold type on the defensive side. On the Tigers’ depth chart, a player’s name in bold type means a returning starter from 2007.
Counting injured free safety William Moore, the Tigers have 10 defensive players who fit that description. Only Lorenzo Williams’ defensive tackle spot will see a new starter in 2008.
But to hear Jaron Baston tell it, moving into Williams’ spot doesn’t mean that there isn’t a returning starter at that position too.
“I have a lot of experience, I played two years in a row,” Baston said. “Basically, last year I was an even starter with Lorenzo Williams. I got a lot of plays, a lot of experience time. That’s why it feels so natural to come in and start.”
While Baston has the experience of playing in every game last season, Andy Maples isn’t conceding the position yet.
“The battle is still great,” Maples said. “Replacing Lorenzo Williams, it’s tough to do. I’m trying to fill out my expectations and take over his spot.”
Baston respects his competition but fully expects to hold on to the spot that has become his.
“Right now, I’m the starter, I plan on being the starter throughout the whole year,” Baston said. “I feel like I can dominate anybody. I learned from him (Williams), and now I feel like nobody can stop me.”
Count Missouri coach Gary Pinkel among the people who share that opinion.
“He’s playing really well,” Pinkel said. “Baston’s really upped his game, he played really well at the end of last year. We’re really pleased with that.”
Baston credits both past and current Tiger defensive linemen for his progression as a football player and for the overall strength on the defensive line. Every position on the defensive line has at least two players who either saw action on last year’s team or are upperclassmen.
“You learn from guys like Brian Smith and Lorenzo Williams,” he said. “Those are two guys among the top three in Missouri all-time sack records. Then you have guys like Ziggy Hood, Stryker Sulak and Tommy Chavis, who are great pass rushers. I’m the new guy, I’m just coming in and showing what I can do.”
POSITION CHANGE: Despite the avalanche of injuries to his linebacking corps during the spring season, Pinkel said that he would not move anyone to the linebacker position, believing it was too late to make such a move. Tyler Crane changed his plans by asking to move to linebacker.
“It originated from him, and then we talked amongst the staff,” Pinkel said. “We thought it would be a good move. Obviously, I’m not sure in the spring game exactly what we’re going to do with him.”
Pinkel said that Crane has not been gaining as much size as some of the other players at the defensive line position, which helped in determining the position change.
TEMPERS FLARE: Near the end of practice, a fight broke out between Castine Bridges and Jon Gissinger after a play. Both had to be separated by players and coaches, but teammates dismissed it as frustrations from seeing the same players in practice over and over again.
“You just get tired of seeing the same faces,” Baston said. “You have to imagine them as being other people or you have to talk a little trash to get riled up. You just have to find ways to motivate yourself.”
Baston said that he and the rest of the defense tries to mess with the offense’s star players on a daily basis to try to prepare them for game situations. Pinkel said that he spoke to the players after the fight took place.
WUEBBLES ARREST: Pinkel gave no comment on any possible punishment for lineman Austin Wuebbles following his arrest on suspicion of being minor in possession, possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.