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Missouri begins fall workouts with inexperienced pass catchers biggest question

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COLUMBIA, Missouri — Missouri has a few weeks to cultivate pass catching options for Maty Mauk.

The junior senior quarterback completed just 53 percent of his passes last year for the two-time defending SEC East champions. In the Tigers' drive for a three-peat, which began with the first fall practice on Thursday, a lack of experience at wide receiver is perhaps the biggest question.

"They keep hearing that we don't have any receivers and we don't know who's going to step up," senior cornerback Kenya Dennis said. "You never know who might be the man. It's got to be somebody."

The school also is light on experience on the defensive line, another factor leading to a prediction of a third-place finish in the division this year. Missouri opens against Southeast Missouri State on Sept. 5.

Beyond the big picture, coach Gary Pinkel was happy with the first day in unseasonably cool weather in the low 80s.

"I thought there was a lot of energy," Pinkel said. "They went home for a few days and came back with a lot of enthusiasm, so that was encouraging.

"Now it's just wake up tomorrow and get better, keep getting better. Here we go."

The top five pass-catchers from last season are gone.

Nate Brown and Wesley Leftwich, the top guys on the depth chart, combined for eight catches last year. Tight end Sean Culkin could get more action after totaling 20 catches with an 8.7-yard average.

"Yeah, there's some uncertainty there," Pinkel said. "It happens sometimes. Attrition happens and you've got to adjust."

Mauk is entering his second full year as starter and should get plenty of time to throw behind a line led by a pair of seniors — center Evan Boehm and left tackle Connor McGovern, who have combined for 68 career starts. Boehm is a four-year starter.

"We've always had good offensive lines," McGovern said. "We can help out a lot of the other positions by giving Maty extra time and opening larger holes."

Russell Hansbrough is the top tailback returning with 1,084 yards, 10 touchdowns and a 5.3-yard average. Ish Witter and Morgan Steward, who missed last season after hip surgery, also are in the mix.

It's unusual for Missouri, 11-3 overall and 7-1 in the SEC last year, to be so unsettled on the defensive line. The school has had six players drafted the last five years, including Shane Ray and Markus Golden.

The ranks were thinned by a season-ending injury to tackle Harold Brantley (car accident), and end Charles Harris is the lone player with starting experience, appearing in just one game.

That could enhance the chances for early playing time for tackle Terry Beckner Jr., a tackle from East St. Louis, Illinois, and one of the most heralded players in the nation. But the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Beckner wasn't on the depth chart to begin camp.

Pinkel was non-committal, pointing out no freshmen were listed on the depth chart.

"Every freshman we're looking at," Pinkel said. "We'll analyze that as it goes."

The rest of the defense, which ranked in the top 25 in the nation overall and in points allowed, has a lot more returning depth for new coordinator Barry Odom. Linebackers Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer were among the tackle leaders in the SEC last year, and five members of the secondary have starting experience, led by safety Ian Simon and cornerbacks Kenya Dennis and Aarion Penton.

NOTES: Boehm, Hansbrough, Dennis and Simon were voted captains by the players. ... Retired 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith, who also starred at Missouri, has joined the staff and will help in weight training.

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