COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- As strong as the veteran presence has been for Missouri (8-2, 4-2), the influx of first- and second-year players has been just as impressive.
Through 10 games, the Tigers have put 11 true or redshirt freshmen on the field; three of them started games this season.
Players such as Chase Daniel, Chase Coffman and Jared Perry have benefited from that strategy by Coach Gary Pinkel over the past few seasons.
"I think it's really great because you had guys like Jared Perry and Danario Alexander play a little bit as freshmen and get better," Pinkel said. "It's really good for the program."
At season's end, the team will have to replace 22 senior players, a group with 35 victories and a class that had a major hand in the Tigers ascending.
Freshman tight end Andrew Jones got his first career start at tight end for Chase Coffman, who was nursing a turf toe injury while true freshman defensive back Kenji Jackson got a start at the nickel defensive back position. Each provided a glimpse of the team's future after the 22 seniors leave.
Jackson skipped out on redshirting and has been on the field a lot more in the last three weeks. So far he has 34 tackles and an interception on the season.
"You see him in practice and you know he is ready to go," Pinkel said. "He's going to be a high-level player."
First-year players are mostly making impacts on the special teams, with Jackson, Jones and linebacker Will Ebner getting a load of reps on kickoff and punt coverage teams.
The wealth of depth at the skill positions is illustrated by players such as Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson getting playing time here. But the big question next year might be who will be throwing them the ball?
The most intriguing replacement for next season, without question, will be at quarterback. Missouri has had only two starting quarterbacks over the past eight seasons -- Daniel and Brad Smith.
Pinkel's decision to play Daniel as a freshman left little doubt that he would take over the offense. The only returning signal caller, freshman Blaine Gabbert, has seen time in five games this season, but the job won't be just handed to him. Pinkel's staff has recruited two quarterbacks for 2009 -- Blaine Dalton out of Blue Springs and Ashton Glazer from Springdale, Ark. Both will graduate high school and enroll early to get ahead.
Still, this hasn't seemed to faze Gabbert.
"As a quarterback you have to take a leadership role no matter what," Gabbert said. "I can't look ahead to next year yet but I have to just continue to work hard and try and lead the team."
Still, as someone who had the chance to play early and get his feet wet, there's one departing senior who sees good things ahead for this team.
"I believe the sky is the limit for these guys," Daniel said. "It's going to be interesting to see what happens next year."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)