By The Associated Press
COLUMBIA — Missouri coach Gary Pinkel isn’t giving any clues about the competition to start at quarterback this fall.
Returning starter James Franklin began spring camp March 12 atop the depth chart, but Corbin Berkstresser and Maty Mauk have also taken snaps with the top offense ahead of Saturday’s Black and Gold Game.
“I just think that’s our business right now, nobody else’s business,” Pinkel said. “I don’t know where it’s going to end up, and that’s OK. We’ve got three talented guys who are competing, and I’m in no rush to make a decision. And generally, it takes care of itself.”
Franklin threw for 1,562 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions in nine games last season, one marred by injuries to his shoulder and knee. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior threw for 2,865 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 13 games the previous year, the Tigers’ last in the Big 12.
Healthy again, Franklin says there are no doubts lingering for him.
“Going into (the play), it’s not like, ‘Aw, man. I’m going to have to throw this deep ball and my shoulder hurts,'” he said. “Or, ‘I need to step in the pocket but guys are falling on my knee,’ that kind of thing. So it really helps out, not having to think about it, not having to worry about it and just going out and playing.”
Franklin’s parents surprised their son with a trip to San Diego to work with trainer George Whitfield Jr. during Missouri’s weeklong spring break at the end of March. Franklin said it helped him.
While he is admittedly still learning, Franklin is simultaneously teaching his two teammates who want his position – an “odd” circumstance he has come to accept.
Berkstresser started four times last season but played in 10 games, throwing for 1,059 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions. A 6-foot-3 sophomore, he credits the open competition with Franklin and Mauk with helping him improve, and says there are no hard feelings among them.
“It’s not up to our discretion, it’s up to the coaches’ discretion,” Berkstresser said. “So whoever wins the starting job, we’re still going to be friends no matter what.”
Mauk, a native of Kenton, Ohio, redshirted last season after being named Mr. Football of his home state by The Associated Press in 2011. He set national career records in yards (18,932, according to Missouri), completions (1,353) and touchdowns (219), but has relied on his ability to scramble this spring. Mauk has rushed 12 times for 106 yards and one touchdown through two scrimmages.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound freshman has drawn comparisons to current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel, who led Missouri to a 30-11 record from 2006-08 with a 6-foot, 225-pound frame. Mauk says he has watched footage of Daniel and tries to emulate his footwork.
“He’s got the smoothest dropping feet of anybody I’ve ever seen,” Mauk said. “So I’m just trying to pick up on that and try to put that into my play and use it on the field.”
All three quarterbacks will play Saturday, hoping to end the offense’s struggles so far this spring. Using a scoring system that awards points for various statistics such as sacks, first downs and takeaways, Missouri’s defense has won the team’s first two scrimmages by a combined 53-19 score.
Part of the problem can be traced to the lack of continuity caused by quarterbacks working with different offensive lines and receivers. Whoever wins the competition will be asked to piece together an offense that finished 11th in the Southeastern Conference last season with 25.8 points per game.
“The great teams have great leadership, and most of them have great quarterbacks that have great leadership that make them great teams,” quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said. “We always kind of point to, the obvious ones are Peyton Manning, Tom Brady. They’re talking to people, they’re communicating and they’re encouraging their teammates. And that’s what you have to do to be successful.”