Pinkel, Tigers field questions at Big 12 Media Day

Many questions revolved around the newcomers that will fill in for talent lost to the NFL.
Sophomore James Franklin warms his arm up with fellow quarterbacks during the 2011 Black and Gold game on Saturday, April 16 at Faurot Field. Franklin was a popular topic during Monday's Big 12 Media Day. Maneater File Photo

When he sat down behind the microphone Monday afternoon for the Big 12 Conference Media Day, Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel probably wasn't surprised by the subject of the questions reporters threw his way.

With the departure of quarterback Blaine Gabbert and defensive end Aldon Smith to the NFL ranks, the line of questioning Monday naturally focused on Pinkel’s confidence in their replacements.

Sophomore quarterback James Franklin seemed to be the popular topic, having all but secured the starting role after an impressive spring. Though he called comparing players “not fair,” Pinkel admitted Franklin has a certain quality that reminds him of another former Tiger.

“Personality-wise, James and Brad Smith are a lot alike,” Pinkel said. “They're not rah-rah guys, especially being young players. What they are, the greatest leadership that you can do as a player is to play well. That's the first thing, the most important thing: You gotta play well.”

That’s what Franklin managed to do in his brief appearances last season as Gabbert’s backup, though not necessarily with his arm. Franklin rushed 23 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman, which Pinkel says makes him dynamic in the pocket.

“I think he can extend the play,” Pinkel said. “I think he can also do damage with his feet, not only in the passing game but the running game. We really haven't had that since we had Brad Smith. But he’s got a good arm. Throws the ball well. He's got a good touch.”

Filling the hole left by Smith’s absence will be an easier transition, as Pinkel called the defensive line one of the “strongest positions depth-wise” for Missouri. Junior Brad Madison, who led the team in sacks and tackles for loss last season, is one returner Pinkel has been impressed by.

“We recruited him as an offensive lineman and he ends up being All-Conference [on defense],” Pinkel said. “It’s really amazing how he's done and how he's worked. And we have a lot of other returning starters on the defensive line -- tackles, ends. We have a lot of good players coming back.”

The dynamic of the league schedule itself has changed thanks to the departure of Colorado and Nebraska to other conferences. With the elimination of the North and South divisions, Pinkel says the week-to-week preparation is even more important.

“I think the league will be as strong or stronger nationally each and every year,” Pinkel said. “You better bring everything you've got every week. That's a challenge that you have, because this is a really, really good conference.”

As for his young starting quarterback, Pinkel said it would take time for Franklin to acclimate to his new position of leadership. But he also insisted “the most important thing he can do is play well,” and much of that relies on the nine returning starters on offense.

“Most experienced players I've ever had around a new quarterback since I've been a head football coach,” Pinkel said. “So that's what I'm concerned with, can those four offensive linemen, receivers, running backs, tight ends, can all those guys play up their game to a different level? If they can do that, James Franklin is going to be fine."

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