Campus Corner

Depth-chart dive: Dissecting Missouri’s first two-deep roster

First-year Missouri coach Barry Odom refused to release a depth chart in spring football or training camp, hoping to spur competition throughout the roster (and perhaps develop a small competitive advantage for the season-opener Saturday at West Virginia). That changed Monday, so we’re going to guide Tigers fans through the relevant knowledge to be gleaned from the season’s first two-deep.
First-year Missouri coach Barry Odom refused to release a depth chart in spring football or training camp, hoping to spur competition throughout the roster (and perhaps develop a small competitive advantage for the season-opener Saturday at West Virginia). That changed Monday, so we’re going to guide Tigers fans through the relevant knowledge to be gleaned from the season’s first two-deep. The Associated Press

There’s some information about Missouri’s first depth chart of the Barry Odom era in our notes for Tuesday’s edition of The Star, which can be found here.

Drew Lock (unsurprisingly) was dubbed QB1 for the Tigers. Odom values experience and toughness.

Lock has the most experience at quarterback after starting the final eight games last season as a true freshman.

It wasn’t always “fun” experience for Lock — who went 2-6, including a 1-6 SEC record, while completing 129 of 263 passes for 1,332 yards with four touchdowns and eight interceptions — but the toughness he’s shown to shake it off surely won him points with Odom.

Perhaps the most effusive praise Odom offered Monday during his game-week news conference was directed toward redshirt freshman slot receiver Johnathon Johnson.

“If you look at all 105 guys we had in camp, I like them all, but I may be most excited about Johnathon Johnson,” Odom said. “He’s grown up … and his maturity is at a different level than where it was last year and even in spring ball. He’s embraced the opportunity to go compete every day and has become a guy you count on to be a playmaker.”

Last season, Johnson was in line to make the depth and potentially be a big piece of the Tigers offense before he suffered torn ligaments in his ankle during a scrimmage.

Now, Johnson is a co-starter in the list, but he’s listed ahead of Chris Black, a graduate-student transfer from Alabama, and sophomore Ray Wingo.

Usually, the designation “-OR-” signifies that players are on the same level of the depth chart, but the order provides a clue to who’s really a nose ahead at the position.

However, in the case of punt returner, Johnson and Black are joined by “-AND-” and Odom said both will be used to return punts. That could be a straight rotation or it could be dictated by rest/who has the hot hand within a given game.

Of course, there’s more to break down now that Mizzou has a two-deep to dissect, so let’s take a look position by position*:

* First, some links …

Don’t miss — Missouri football: 2016 preview

Tod Palmer breaks down the Tigers

A deeper look at Mizzou’s depth chart

(Editor’s note: More than one player at the same position on first or second string indicates an “-OR-” designation.)

Quarterback

First string: Drew Lock, sophomore, 6-4, 220.

Second string: Marvin Zanders, sophomore, 6-1, 200.

Analysis: This isn’t a big shock and both will play. Lock will get the lion’s share of reps, but Zanders will have a role. How big of a role? That remains to be seen, but it could be more significant than the typical spot duty we’ve seen from Chase Daniel (under Brad Smith), Blaine Gabbert (under Daniel), James Franklin (under Gabbert), Maty Mauk (under Franklin) and Lock (under Mauk the first four games last season).

Surprises: None

Offensive line

First string: LT Tyler Howell, junior, 6-8, 320; LG Kevin Pendleton, sophomore, 6-4, 335; C Samson Bailey, sophomore, 6-4, 295; RG Alec Abeln, junior, 6-3, 305; RT Paul Adams, sophomore, 6-6, 315.

Second string: LT Kyle Mitchell, sophomore, 6-5, 330; LG Trystan Castillo, freshman, 6-4, 320; C Michael Stannard, senior, 6-2, 290; C Jonah Dubinski, redshirt freshman, 6-2, 290; RG Adam Ploudre, junior, 6-4, 315; RT Tre’Vour Simms, freshman, 6-5, 350.

Analysis: The first-string line has been fairly well set for a few weeks based on observation at fall camp. The backup spots were more in flux and there still could be mixing and matching there if needed. It’s either a great thing that the line is relatively young with three sophomore starters, an indication the foundation is rock solid for years to come, or it means the Tigers will continue to struggle up front. Indications are that the starters held their own with a vaunted defensive line in training camp, but an injury could wreck the unit’s chemistry.

Surprises: There are three walk-ons — Stannard, Dubinski and Ploudre — on the two deep and redshirt freshman A.J. Harris (6-4, 310), a Blue Valley graduate, is nowhere to be found. He missed a chunk of camp after wrist surgery and is still wearing a cast on the injury. He’s a good bet to work his way into the depth when healthy, but it hasn’t happened quite yet.

Running backs

First string: Alex Ross, senior, 6-1, 220; Ish Witter, junior, 5-10, 200.

Second string: None listed

Analysis: Ross and Witter are co-starters, but Odom said Monday that five tailbacks will travel to West Virginia and four, including freshman Damarea Crockett (5-11, 220) and sophomore Nate Strong (6-0, 210), are likely to get carries. This is a position that has gone from a glaring weakness last season to a potential strength. Crockett also is listed as third-string at kick returner, where’s worked some alongside Ross as the two deep men.

Surprises: None

Outside receivers

First string: (1) J’Mon Moore, junior, 6-3, 205; (2) Emanuel Hall, sophomore, 6-3, 205; (2) Dimetrios Mason, freshman, 6-0, 185.

Second string: (1) Dominic Collins, junior, 6-2, 180.

Analysis: Hall, who missed a chunk of camp with a strained hamstring, showed flashes of ability last season and coaches raved about him early in camp before the injury. He’s the co-starter opposite Moore along with Mason, who is a speedy game-changer that really turned heads in camp. Moore, according to teammates, has taken his game and leadership to a new level this season. He’s developed a tremendous on-field rapport with Lock, while Collins brings some seasoning from the junior college ranks and also possesses big-play ability.

Surprises: There’s no Justin Smith (6-7, 210), Keyon Dilosa (6-3, 205) or Eric Laurent (6-2, 210) — all of whom were mentioned as having rock-solid camps by coaches at some point. This is probably a product of only going two deep at each spot and shouldn’t be taken as an indication none will see the field in 2016. Still, it’s unlikely all of them can play meaningful reps.

Slot receivers

First string: Johnathon Johnson, redshirt freshman, 5-10, 185; Chris Black, senior, 6-0, 190; Ray Wingo, sophomore, 5-11, 185.

Second string: None listed

Analysis: Johnson, Black and Wingo have all turned heads in camp and made plays. All three are shifty, fast and capable of providing a boost for an offense that desperately needs it given last season’s struggles. Injuries have dogged black throughout his career at Alabama and during his first (and only) camp with Mizzou, but the depth at the position makes that less of a concern than it would be at other spots.

Surprises: None, but don’t sleep on Richaud Floyd (5-11, 185). He apparently isn’t at the level of the other three receivers, but he’s flashed in camp a few times. With so much depth at the position, he’s blocked for now, but an injury could open up a few reps.

Tight ends

First string: Sean Culkin, senior, 6-6, 250

Second string: Jason Reese, junior, 6-5, 250; Kendall Blanton, sophomore, 6-6, 260.

Analysis: There’s a good blend of experience, athleticism and matchup nightmares in this group. Culkin is a leader for the offense, but he’s not the only tight end who’ll see the field. Blanton could prove quite the handful in the red zone this season if coaches trust him enough with blocking that it isn’t a dead giveaway what the play call is when he enters the game.

Surprises: Perhaps it’s not a surprise that freshmen Albert Okwuegbunam (6-5, 255) and Brendan Scales (6-4, 250) aren’t on the two-deep, but there were some indications one or both could play this season. Maybe that will prove true still, but Odom “it will be pretty close to that number” when asked if the eight freshmen on the two-deep are the only ones who’ll play this season.

Defensive ends

First string: RDE Charles Harris, junior, 6-3, 260; LDE Jordan Harold, junior, 6-2, 265.

Second string: RDE Marcell Frazier, junior, 6-5, 260; LDE Spencer Williams, sophomore, 6-3, 250.

Analysis: Harris is expected to have a monster season. It’s to the point where anything less than 12 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss might be seen as underwhelming, considering the constant love heaped upon him by coaches and teammates. That might be incredibly unfair or he may blow those numbers away. Of course, he also could blow those numbers away, especially if teams are forced to play him one-on-one because of the Tigers’ potentially elite defensive tackle rotation. Harold has been one of fall camp’s most pleasant surprises, while Frazier is motivated by not locking down the starting job and Williams is a fast-rising talent.

Surprises: Much-ballyhooed recruit Nate Howard (6-4, 240), a sophomore who flipped his commitment from Wisconsin late in the 2015 recruiting cycle, wasn’t much of a factor in the chase for the starting spot opposite Harris after the first week of camp. Of course, he’s also coming off a knee injury, so that could account for his seeming struggles. Meanwhile, recent tackle convert Josh Moore (6-5, 255), an Olathe North graduate, failed to crack the initial two-deep but has been described as a fast-learner at the edge position. Don’t be shocked if either steals the occasional rep.

Defensive tackles

First string: (1) Rickey Hatley, senior, 6-4, 320; (2) A.J. Logan, junior, 6-2, 325.

Second string: (1) Terry Beckner Jr., sophomore, 6-4, 290; (2) Josh Augusta, senior, 6-4, 355.

Analysis: This might be the deepest position on the roster. Seriously, Beckner, a five-star recruit and 2015 Freshman All-American, and Augusta, who’s perhaps the most athletic “355-pounder” in college football, are the backups. Expect a relatively equal split of reps between the two rotations. There will be times when any combination of these defensive tackles could be on the field with any combination of ends. The versatility and subsequent deployment should be intriguing to watch.

Surprises: There was probably an expectation that the depth would fluctuate more in camp, that Beckner was second string early as he worked back from his torn ACL last November to complete health and would eventually move up. It didn’t really happen, but I think the “starter” label is mostly meaningless at this position more than any other. The rotation will be liberal and the snaps will be roughly equal.

Linebackers

First string: SLB Donavin Newsom, senior, 6-2, 240; MLB Michael Scherer, senior, 6-3, 235; WLB Joey Burkett, sophomore, 6-2, 225.

Second string: SLB Terez Hall, sophomore, 6-2, 225; MLB Cale Garrett, freshman, 6-3, 230; WLB Brandon Lee, sophomore, 6-2, 225.

Analysis: The positions were set in the spring and never really changed. Hall pushed Newsom for the starting spot at strong-side linebacker, which is really more of a hybrid safety/blitz linebacker/nickel position. There’s a chance Hall even did enough to warrant a few series. Burkett perhaps has the biggest shoes to fill of any player on the roster. His predecessor, Vikings fifth-round pick Kentrell Brothers, led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 152 tackles last season. Burkett doesn’t need that kind of production, but he can’t be the weak link either if the defense is going to come close to replicating last season’s incredible success.

Surprises: None.

Cornerbacks

First string: LCB Aarion Penton, senior, 5-10, 195; RCB John Gibson, senior, 6-0, 195.

Second string: LCB Christian Holmes, freshman, 6-1, 190; LCB DeMarkus Acy, freshman, 6-2, 190; RCB Logan Cheadle, junior, 5-10, 180.

Analysis: Penton is a potential All-SEC performer and Gibson has oodles of experience. Aside from Cheadle, the depth gets untested from there, but the talent remains solid. It won’t help Odom sleep if Holmes or Acy gets pressed into regular duty by an injury, but …

Surprises: It may be a moot point if redshirt freshman T.J. Warren (5-10, 210) manages to recover fully from a mid-camp hamstring injury. Coming out of the spring, Warren was the starter opposite Penton, a spot he’d held down until the injury. Warren’s still working his way back, but could crack the rotation, if not the starting lineup, before September ends.

Safeties

First string: SS Anthony Sherrils, junior, 6-0, 205; FS Thomas Wilson, junior, 5-10, 195.

Second string: SS Ronnell Perkins, redshirt freshman, 6-0, 200; FS Cam Hilton, sophomore, 6-0, 190.

Analysis: Sherrils and Wilson, lightning and thunder. The two deep was predictable based on workouts the last 10 days to two weeks. Sherrils, a Hogan Prep graduate, and Wilson were never seriously challenged for the starting spots. The former is perhaps the fastest player on the team and finished third on the Tigers with 64 tackles last season; the latter emerged as one of the most consistent players in spring practice and fall camp. Perkins and Hilton settled in nicely as capable understudies.

Surprises: None. Sophomore Greg Taylor made the two-deep as the second-string kick returner, so he’ll travel and provides additional depth at the position.

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