The Missouri Tigers football team closed preseason camp this week with eight days remaining before the team's opening game against Miami (OH) on September 3rd.
It's been a turbulent week for the Tigers squad. The injury bug has hit camp pretty hard in the past few weeks, with a slew of starters and key contributors sidelined with red practice jerseys.
Junior defensive end Brad Madison, senior wide receiver Jerrell Jackson and strong safety Kenji Jackson were among the key 15 players who sat out of the team's final scrimmage last Saturday.
Here's a closer look at both sides of the football for the Missouri Tigers this fall camp.
The big question going into the preseason for these Missouri Tigers was how sophomore quarterback James Franklin would effectively replace 2011 NFL first-round draft pick Blaine Gabbert this season.
While he hasn't played a regular season game yet, Franklin has taken the starting reins and ran with them this fall. He's the unquestioned starter and emerging as one of the team's unquestioned leaders as well.
Aside from the intangibles, Franklin also looks like a great fit for the Missouri spread attack. He's shown great touch on his passes and uses his strong mobility to keep defenses honest.
Franklin will need to prove his talent this season, but if fall camp is any indication, he could be the next great Tigers signal-caller.
Junior running back Kendial Lawrence has really separated himself from the rest of the Tigers running backs this fall. Lawrence has been the biggest playmaker on offense, scoring multiple 60-yard touchdowns in all of the team's scrimmages.
Senior De'Vion Moore and sophomore Henry Josey will see carries for Mizzou, but Lawrence looks primed to start and potentially become the go-to guy in the backfield.
In the receiving corps, it's clear that the starting lineup of junior receiver T.J. Moe, senior receiver, Jerrell Jackson, senior receiver Wes Kemp and senior All-American tight end Michael Egnew will not change.
But the players next in line for the receiver rotation are locked in a dogfight for playing time.
Sophomore receiver Marcus Lucas has clearly shown the biggest improvement since last season. He only caught three passes as a freshman, but he looks like a new man this season and has made his presence known in camp.
Lucas will probably be the first receiver off the bench and could even challenge for a starting role depending on how well he plays.
Senior receiver Brandon Gerau isn't the fastest or the biggest receiver, but he catches everything and runs solid routes. Gerau, Lucas and other young receivers like redshirt freshman Bud Sasser and junior Gahn McGaffie will see the most playing time off the bench in a crowded receiving corps.
Unfortunately, the biggest story for the offense this preseason was the loss of senior captain and left tackle Elvis Fisher. Fisher had started 40 consecutive games for the Tigers and was primed for a huge senior season. He injured his knee last week and was pronounced out for the 2011 season.
This has forced Missouri to make large-scale changes on the starting offensive line. Versatile senior offensive lineman Justin Britt is now permanently entrenched at left tackle. Junior center Travis Ruth has been injured recently, forcing all of the other starters to move around the line.
What looked like a team strength before camp started could turn into a major question mark. Expect the rest of the starters to remain at their positions.
Franklin's development and the regrouping of the offensive line will be the focus of the offense going forward into the season.
The Missouri Tigers defensive line has been nothing short of excellent this preseason. It's the deepest unit on the team and the strongest defensive line in the Big 12 conference.
Injuries to defensive stars Brad Madison and Jacquies Smith have allowed younger players to showcase their talents at defensive end. Redshirt freshman Kony Ealy is a freak athlete (6'5", 250 lbs) and sophomore Brayden Burnett has been surprisingly good for the second unit.
The biggest story on defense, however, is the arrival of former 2009 5-star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
Richardson's arrival ended a four-year recruiting saga for Missouri and fans have been foaming at the mouth to see him in action. He has shown flashes of his huge potential and finds himself climbing up the depth chart every day he practices.
In the linebacking corps, big questions remain at the middle linebacker position. Seniors Will Ebner and Luke Lambert are vying for the position, but neither player can stay healthy long enough to secure the job. Ebner is the bigger playmaker when healthy, but he's been sidelined with a concussion recently.
As for the wide side linebacker spot, there's not a better player on defense than junior Zaviar Gooden. He led the team in tackles last season and could emerge as one of the top linebackers in the country this season. Sophomore Andrew Wilson has looked good on strong side as well.
The starting secondary has been a little banged up this fall camp, with senior captain Kenji Jackson sidelined this past week. Jackson is the biggest hitter on the defense and will lead an otherwise inexperienced secondary unit.
Redshirt sophomore Matt White has all but locked up the starting free safety spot. He's seen all of the first team reps and slides over nicely to the nickelback while junior Kenronte Walker covers his half of the field.
The starting cornerback duo of sophomore E.J. Gaines and junior Kip Edwards has seen a recent halt. Edwards is out of a hamstring injury and senior Trey Hobson has crashed the party with outstanding play in camp.
Hobson would likely start on half of the Big 12's defenses, but he will still play a great deal off the bench.
The Tigers coaching staff still firmly believes that this year's starting cornerbacks are the most athletic they've ever had. Kip Edwards will be ready to go for the season opener, but they may play it safe if his hamstring injury persists.
Sheldon Richardson's role on the defensive line and the ongoing battle at middle linebacker are the biggest stories for the Missouri defense heading in 2011.