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Mizzou Spring Football Storylines To Watch Ahead of Saturday's Scrimmage

Spring practices will conclude this week for the Missouri Tigers with a scrimmage set for Saturday, March 16.

Spring practices for the Missouri Tigers are wrapping up this week. Three weeks of practices will conclude with the scrimmage at Faurot Field this Saturday. Four different position coaches for the Tigers spoke to the media Tuesday to give an update on their position's progress. Here's the storylines to follow from three of them.

Continuity with Wide Receivers Brings Flexibility

The Missouri wide receiver room will return each of its seven leading contributors from 2023. The entire group of returning starters being comfortable with the offensive playbook allows for more flexibility.

At the top of the list of returners is sophomore Luther Burden III, who finished the 2023 season with 1,212 receiving yards. A key part of Burden’s breakout year was his move to the slot. For the 2024 season, the Missouri offensive staff is looking to explore the versatility of Burden along with the rest of the receiver group.

“It really helps right now with spring in terms of moving guys around,” offensive coordinator Kirby Moore said. “We have a specific X, Z and H (positional alignments) but we’re kinda altering that throughout different practices. … We want to be able to move around so we can’t just focus on ‘hey Theo Wease is always the X (boundary)’ or Luther Burden is always in the slot. We want to be able to move those guys around.”

The coaching staff wants to avoid becoming one dimensional. Wide receivers coach Jacob Peeler spoke about the need for the group to have a diverse skillset. Peeler used the metaphor of having to build a basketball team on grass. A basketball team will be about just as successful as Missouri’s men’s team was this season if their starting five only includes centers. The same is true for a football team's offense.

“You don’t want cookie cutter copies, you don’t want the same guy,” Peeler said. “You got to have different guys that do different things at different arts of the field. .. You just got to have different pieces of he puzzle so that way when the different part of the game presents itself, you hopefully have someone that can make a play in that moment.”

On paper, the group does bring a hodge podge of different skills. Burden is a dangerous threat after the catch in the slot. Theo Wease, a 6-foot-2 senior, is a master at the contested catch. Marquis Johnson proved why his nickname is “Speedy” during his freshman season as a deep threat. The trio’s success should be even greater in their second year together.

No Need to Fret at Linebacker

The inside linebacker room is one of the multiple position groups on Missouri roster that saw key starters declare for the NFL Draft. Despite the departures of both Ty’Ron Hopper and Chad Bailey though, the Tigers still seem to be steady at the position.

During the 2023 season, two of the expected starters for 2024 (Chuck Hicks and Tristan Newson) both saw significant playing time as both Bailey and Hopper missed time with injuries.

Hicks, a graduate, is expected to be the leader in the group with his extensive experience.

“Chuck’s the elder statesmen,” linebackers coach D.J. Smith said. “It’s been good, especially for the young guys in the room transitioning there. We got a good mixture of old guys and young guys and (Hicks is) just being that bridge between me (and the players)."

Newson brings impressive athletics to the middle of the field and proved to be reliable last season after transferring from Northeast Mississippi CC.

“It t was a little bit of a learning curve there coming from JUCO, transition to how we do things her but it’s been fun,” Smith said. ‘I’ve been excited about him and he’s still developing too.”

The Tigers also added Miami’s Corey Flagg Jr. through the transfer portal. Flagg brings plenty of experience and versatility to the lineup. Flagg has made a strong impression on both Smith and new defensive coordinator Corey Batoon with his work ethic.

“Corey’s a stud,” Smith said. “High football intelligence, really good guy, really good motor, he’s a man’s man, (he is a) great leader for the room.”

“(Flagg) has a very good understanding, he’s played under a lot of different systems and now it’s, I think (I) saw this happen this week a little bit, where the game is starting to slow down for him a little bit and now it’s starting to make sense to him and now you see the athleticism start to show up.”

The versatility and experience that both Hopper and Bailey provided will be difficult to replace but it seems like the Tigers have the guys on the roster to do it.

Confidence in Experience with Secondary

Like the linebacker room, Missouri’s cornerback also lost two long-time starters with Ennis Rakestraw Jr. and Kris Abrams-Draine. According to Missouri defensive backs coach Al Pogue, the two's absence will be most felt with the experience in the corner back room.

“Those guys logged so many reps, just the mileage that they had. It’s hard to replace experience," Pogue said. "I think with those two just the leadership that they provided, more importantly the game experience that they provided

The Tigers will have to rely on the few players in the room that have starting experiencing including returning players Dreyden Norwood and Marcus Clarke along with Clemson transfer Torriano Pride Jr.

Pride, a St. Louis native, only started three games at Clemson but appeared in 26 games over two years. He was a four-star recruit out of East St. Louis High School and has impressed Pogue early on in spring practices.

“It was really big to acquire a player like that with the experience he had,” Rogue said. “So he has some game experience. … We have to replace two really good players that we currently lost and for him to come in and have that experience and he’s an athletic kid, he’s a local kid so it means something to him but it was really big for us.”

The player with the most experience with the Tigers will be Norwood, who started five times during his redshirt sophomore season last year. Norwood spent the 2021 season, his freshman year, at Texas A&M before transferring to Missouri. He continues to improve during spring practices. 

“Really pleased with Dre’s growth," Smith said. "When he first got here, he hadn’t played that much but I’ve really been impressed with him this spring even though he still has some things he has to work but he’s been really attentive. You can tell he’s in his playbook more, he’s getting really comfortable with the scheme and he’s just letting his natural ability come through."

These three position groups and the rest of the Missouri roster will hit the field Saturday for the Tigers' Spring game.