Missouri zipped to the top of the SEC's East Division last season thanks in large part to a trio of large receivers. But L'Damian Washington (50 catches, 893 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Marcus Lucas (58 catches, 692 yards, three touchdowns) have graduated. Superstar Dorial Green-Beckham (59 catches, 883 yards, 12 touchdowns) was booted from this year's Tiger team earlier this summer following yet another run-in with Johnny Law.
At SEC Media Days, Gary Pinkel reminded the media that his team has three SEC-caliber running backs who could be used as pass-catchers out of the backfield. "We can use running backs and tight ends as receivers." He stated plainly that his coaches don't "have to replace a receiver with a receiver."
Pinkel's theory will be further tested now that receiver Levi Copelin has been suspended by the NCAA for the entire season after testing positive for a banned supplement. The sophomore caught just three passes for 61 yards last season, but he was expected to take on a much bigger role in the Tiger offense this season due to the departures of the aforementioned trio. (Ironically, Copelin was suspended during the 2012 season following an arrest for possession of marijuana along with Green-Beckham.)
Pinke didn't mince words in a Mizzou-released statement:
"This is a very unfortunate situation, but one that Levi created for himself. He's paying the price for this mistake, and I commend him for owning up to it and taking responsibility. Our strength coaches and trainers rely on our players to be careful of what they do on their own, and to always get approval from them first. We're disappointed that Levi didn't follow this guideline, but we will support him during this time, and have high expectations that he will handle all of his responsibilities in the classroom, in the community and on the field in a first-class manner."
The question now becomes, "Who will support quarterback Maty Mauk?" The redshirt sophomore did a fine job backing up and then filling in for injured starter James Franklin last season. He stepped in a helped Missouri hold onto a lead at Georgia. He excelled in a win over Florida, struggled in the Tigers' home loss to South Carolina, and then played well in wins over downtrodden Tennessee and Kentucky.
Still, his completion percentage was only 51.1% and that was with three 6-foot-plus receivers bringing down his passes. Now take 170 receptions, 2,529 yards, and 25 touchdown catches out of the mix and the task before Mauk appears pretty darn daunting.
Pinkel and his coaches will try to use backs and tight ends to replace all those graduated/dismissed/suspended wideouts in 2014. Question: Just how many backs and tight ends do the Tigers have?