3 in the Kee: These three Tigers will have extra pressure to step up with DGB out
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Some things are bigger than football, amen and absolutely.
But there’s still football at the University of Missouri, and right now that football team has a big ol’ hole where No. 15 used to be. And a set of Southeastern Conference dance partners who are off in the corners and the shadows, cracking their respective knuckles, and cackling about how payback is a thing, that, ya know, rhymes with "rich."
Off-field Dorial Green-Beckham is somebody else’s problem. On-field Dorial Green-Beckham is somebody else’s Easter basket.
According to police reports, this is a troubled, tempestuous young man. He’s also a 6-foot-6 Baby Megatron with the kind of skill set that turns NFL scouts into cartoon wolves, eyes popping out of their cartoon heads, foam forming on their cartoon mouths.
DGB is an NFL wide receiver, and you don’t replace an NFL receiver overnight. Or even over a fortnight. With L’Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas, Henry Josey and James Franklin having already departed, what was already starting to look like a challenging year in the Tiger football camp has turned into circle-the-wagons time in CoMo. Especially for a few individuals …
THE THREE MIZZOU TIGERS MOST AFFECTED BY THE SPRING DISMISSAL OF DGB
:03 (tie) … RUSSELL HANSBROUGH AND MARCUS MURPHY, RBs
DGB didn’t just stretch incredulity; the kid stretched the field. And nobody benefited from Mizzou’s array of giant receiving targets last season more than the three-headed Tiger backfield monster of Josey, Murphy and Hansbrough.
Why? The reasons were two-fold. First, a healthy downfield passing game keeps safeties and some outside linebackers from crowding the line of scrimmage. Second, DGB and Washington and Lucas were good-to-excellent edge blockers, depending on their mood, and wide-receiver blocks can often make the difference between a 7-yard gain and a 35-yard back-breaker.
So losing a talent such as Green-Beckham is something of a double whammy for the two leading returning rushers in Gary Pinkel’s toolbox. Doubtless, the coaching staff will find a away to adjust, but those big receivers played a big role in the phenomenal rushing numbers of a year ago, and those digits will be tough to duplicate. And there’s a good chance that MU puts more pressure on its returning backfield duo to help carry some of the yardage and conversion slack now that the passing game has taken such a hit.
In other words, gentlemen, the ball is in your court. It’s time to run with it.
:02 … BUD SASSER, WR
Because there’s also the obvious: Mizzou needs a No. 1 wideout now, a front-line target. By graduation and disciplinary elimination, that leaves Sasser, the 6-foot-2 Texan, as the leading returning pass-catcher (26 grabs a season ago), leading receiver by yardage (361) and the clubhouse leader in touchdown catches (one, shared with five other players).
Sasser has notched as many touchdown grabs in his career (two) as DGB had in one half at Lexington, Ky., this past autumn. Bud might not have the purely freakish combination of kangaroo hops and sucker hands that Green-Beckham did — to be fair, few do — but No. 21 will fight for the ball in the air and can use leverage to his advantage on deep throws. And if there’s an encouraging stat line, it’s this: Of Sasser’s 13 appearances in 2013, he averaged more than 14 yards per catch in six of them.
:01 … MATY MAUK, QB
But the longest face of all probably belongs to the Tigers’ expected starter under center. Mauk spoke glowingly of DGB, and vice versa, in media settings; the chemistry on the field was obvious, too. The arm that delivered Green-Beckham’s school-record four receiving touchdowns in a game at Kentucky? Mauk’s, who himself accounted for five scores on the day.
Mauk completed 51.1 percent of this throws for 1,071 yards last fall as James Franklin’s understudy. The dude loves the deep ball, loves taking chances, loves putting tall receivers in a position to out-athlete some poor schmoe and make a play.
For a solid "touch" passer with good feel, Green-Beckham was the perfect, giant, rangy target — of Mauk’s 11 TD passes in 2013, five (nearly half) were to DGB. Green-Beckham allowed the Ohio native to indulge those reckless whims to his heart’s desire.
The jump ball will still be a part of the Tigers’ arsenal. But it won’t be the same weapon it was three weeks ago. Things have changed. For better or worse, Mizzou has, too.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.