Missouri has 14 starters back, breaking in new wide receivers, defensive ends

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COLUMBIA, Missouri — Missouri begins spring practice breaking in three new wide receivers, two new defensive ends and a new defensive coordinator.

The new athletic director stopped by Tuesday, too. Mack Rhoades, introduced earlier in the day at the Student Center, spoke with all of the coaches earlier in the day and watched the workout for about 20 minutes.

"It's a great hire," coach Gary Pinkel said. "I think we got the right guy, without question."

Pinkel had no doubt the transition to Rhoades from Mike Alden, who hired him in 2000, would be seamless.

"First of all, I can get along with anybody, contrary to what many might believe," Pinkel said. "We'll get along fine."

The team practiced at Faurot Field in unseasonably warm weather, with temperatures in the 60s. Coming off an 11-3 season and a second straight SEC Eastern Division championship, there's no shortage of confidence.

"We're hungry," center Evan Boehm said. "Some guys are writing us off already but that's fine with us. We'll just keep on doing what we've been doing."

All of the seniors had enthusiasm to spare, realizing the clock is ticking on their college careers.

"I could barely sleep last night, I woke up thinking this is the last go-around," safety Ian Simon said. "My parents told me to have fun, and today was a fun day.

"Coming in as an 18-year-old freshman and now being a 21-year-old senior you grow up a lot and you realize that time is limited."

Missouri has 14 returning starters, seven on each side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Barry Odom is the new coaching staff addition under Pinkel, entering his 15th season.

"We want to win a national championship," Pinkel said. "I don't think you have to look for hidden motivation."

Pinkel must replace defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden, who combined for 24 1/2 sacks. Ray a likely NFL first-round draft pick. There's a new crop at wide receiver, replacing five who combined for 195 receptions.

"Our receiver core is young, so that's certainly an area we're going to look at," Pinkel said. "But we're not talking about being young, we don't do that, we don't care. Bottom line is you go out and play."

The top two tacklers return, linebackers Kentrell Brothers (122) and Michael Scherer (114).

"I never thought I'd have 100 tackles in the SEC," Brothers said. "That's something you expect people like Patrick Willis to do, and neither of us look like Patrick Willis."

Maty Mauk's top targets among a group with no virtually production are sophomores J'Mon Moore and Nate Brown, and senior Wesley Leftwich. Brown had five catches for 45 yards last year as a freshman.

"The last two years we've had a whole new group of receivers and we've done well," Leftwich said. "We definitely have the talent to step up, we've just got to build chemistry with Maty. It's just the first practice but it felt pretty good."

Sophomore Marcus Loud and senior Charles Harris are the new starters at end.

Four starters are back on the offensive line, led by Boehm and left tackle Conner McGovern. Plus, junior college transfer Malik Cuellar figures in the mix.

Four players are on the injury report heading into the spring, tailback Morgan Stewart (hip), guard Brad McNulty (shoulder surgery), safety Cortland Browning (foot) and defensive back Tavon Ross (torn knee ACL).

Ross will likely undergo surgery next week for an injury sustained in offseason conditioning drills. The school is hopeful, though, that he'll be ready this fall.

Missouri wraps up spring practice with the Black and Gold game April 18. The Tigers open Sept. 5 against Southeast Missouri State.

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