IRVING, Texas — Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon didn't waste any time helping coach Gary Pinkel adjust to life without Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin.
The Tigers were moments removed from an Alamo Bowl win over Northwestern last year when questions about the NFL draft came up. While Maclin eventually decided to leave early for the pros, Weatherspoon immediately declared he was returning for his senior season.
"I was underneath the table going like this," said Pinkel, reaching down to clap his hands at the podium Tuesday during Big 12 media days. "If he's not the best linebacker in the country, show me who is."
Missouri has to find a new quarterback and go-to receiver, but at least the Tigers don't have to replace 149 tackles, including 18 for losses, and five sacks.
The leadership void will be particularly acute without Daniel, who was given loads of credit for guiding a program that won 30 games in three years and made consecutive trips to the Big 12 championship game.
Pinkel thinks Weatherspoon can fill that void.
"He's a lot more than just tackling and hitting people," Pinkel said. "He's a great person and a great student. He's a great team player. He's the whole package. You lose those guys, they're a little bit hard to replace."
After Weatherspoon, four of Missouri's next five leading tacklers are gone, and the Tigers lost more than 2,000 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns with the departures of Maclin and Tommy Saunders. Also gone is the career NCAA tight ends receptions leader, Chase Coffman, who scored 10 touchdowns last year and signed with the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals this week.
Running back Derrick Washington is likely to be the offensive leader after rushing for 1,036 yards and 17 TDs in 2007.
Pinkel said Blaine Gabbert was the starter at quarterback, but freshmen Ashton Glaser and Blaine Dalton got a head start by going through spring training.
"Chase Daniels' legacy is over," Weatherspoon said. "We've got another guy stepping in. He's excited about his opportunity."