COLUMBIA — A year ago, as the Missouri football team began preparations for the 2010 season, much attention was given to a pair of standout players: quarterback Blaine Gabbert and defensive end Aldon Smith.
A year later, both players are preparing for the upcoming NFL season after becoming top-10 picks in April's NFL Draft. Yet, the positions they vacated with the Tigers are still getting plenty of attention. Missouri's 2011 football camp, which opens Thursday, will give new players the chance to take full control of those roles.
At quarterback, the player with the best chance of replacing Gabbert is sophomore James Franklin. He is listed first on coach Gary Pinkel’s preseason depth chart but has little in-game experience. He attempted only 14 passes last season, but he has earned the confidence of his teammates and coach.
On the defensive line, the most likely replacement for Smith is junior Brad Madison, who has plenty of experience. Madison filled in when Smith was injured in 2010 and earned increased playing time over the year. By season’s end, he was the team leader in both sacks with 7.5 and tackles for loss with 11.
Although Gabbert and Smith were the biggest names to move on, there are other important members of the 2010 team that will not be returning. Center Tim Barnes, linebacker Andrew Gachkar and a trio of defensive backs — cornerbacks Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis and safety Jarrell Harrison — have used up their eligibility and are hoping to catch on in the NFL.
Plenty of experience remains, however. Franklin will be throwing to some of the nation’s top pass catchers in wide receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew, and Madison is joining a defensive line that brings back starters at the other three positions.
Junior offensive lineman Travis Ruth, listed first on the preseason depth chart, is expected to take over for Barnes at center, and sophomore linebacker Andrew Wilson, the top-ranked player at Gachkar’s old position, are the favorites to fill the only open spots in a pair of senior-heavy units.
The only place on the field where experience does not reign is the secondary, where the departure of Rutland, Gettis and Harrison has left safety Kenji Jackson as the lone returning starter. Among those in line to take over starting spots are junior Kip Edwards, sophomore E.J. Gaines and sophomore Matt White.
Missouri’s 2011 picture will become more focused as camp continues over the next month. The Tigers open their schedule against Miami of Ohio on Sept. 3 at Memorial Stadium.