COLUMBIA, Mo. — Just like last season, Missouri begins fall workouts way under the radar.
The Tigers are coming off a 12-win season and SEC Eastern division title, but must replace numerous key players including NFL draft picks Kony Ealy, Justin Britt, E.J. Gaines and Michael Sam. James Franklin, a three-year starter at quarterback, and running back Henry Josey are among nine players in all at NFL training camps.
Missouri was picked fourth in the Eastern Division, which will serve as motivation for the returning players who moved up the depth chart.
“Last year we were an incredibly hungry team, we came off a losing record, and I think we’re just as hungry this year,” offensive lineman Mitch Morse said. “A different motivation intrinsically, but we’re guys trying to prove myself.
“We get no respect and that’s all right, I personally like coming from behind.”
Coach Gary Pinkel set the school career record for victories last season and entering his 14th season believes there’s plenty of depth. There are 11 returning starters counting both specialists, five on defense.
“It’s still about coming out and playing your best, bringing your best,” Pinkel said. “I know it sounds so redundant and boring, but the teams that do that get better.”
The team practiced at Faurot Field with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees.
Before media was escorted off the field just shy of the halfway mark, coaches could be heard barking over occasional buzzing from construction crews working on a new upper deck added when the school joined the SEC.
Missouri (12-2) opens Aug. 30 against South Dakota State, the first of seven home games. The conference opener is Sept. 27 at South Carolina.
“I’m the type of guy, I don’t worry about what people think, I don’t worry about respect,” defensive end Markus Golden said after the opening workout Monday. “I know you’ve got to put on the pads and play. The game, that’s where you get your respect.”
Wide receiver is perhaps the most untested position with the three top producers from last season gone after Dorial Green-Beckham was kicked off the team in April. Levi Copelin, a sophomore who had the potential to start, was suspended for the season by the NCAA for using a banned supplement.
Pinkel said Copelin bought the supplement at the mall, believing teammates had used it.
“Anybody can buy it, there’s nothing illegal about it except playing college football,” Pinkel said. “It was poor judgment on his part and that hurts our team.”
Running back Marcus Murphy could fill part of the void, getting work at wide receiver early in camp. Murphy played wide receiver in high school.
“It is going to be a little adjustment lining up at the slot, but I’ve got the guys to help me,” Murphy said. “Hopefully, it’ll turn out well.”
Bud Sasser had 26 catches last season, most among the players returning.
Redshirt sophomore Maty Mauk was 3-1 in the SEC as the starter last season when Franklin was out with an injury.
Josey had 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. Russell Hansbrough and Murphy combined for 1,286 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The defense must replace Sam, the SEC co-defensive player of the year, and linebacker Andrew Wilson, who led the team in tackles the last three seasons.
Golden and Shane Ray are expected to step up at the ends. Golden, a senior, led defensive linemen in tackles and had 6 1-2 sacks, and Ray, a junior, had 4 1-2 sacks.
“Shane is a beast, he’s got a lot of speed coming off the edge, and I’m a beast on the other side,” Golden said.