On Thursday afternoon, inside the Devine Pavilion, the Missouri Tigers took the field for the first time since the regular season ended. This was the first of the bowl practices, in helmets and shoulder pads, and was geared toward getting in some work for some of the young players.
Among those not dressed due to injury was Dominique Hamilton, Adam Burton, Jeff Gettys, and Luke Lambert. Kevin Rutland wore a red jersey, and Kerwin Stricker wore a red pull-over. Donovan Bonner wore a knee brace, and a red pull-over, and participated in some of the drills. He looks like he could be ready by the spring.
Everyone seemed very enthusiastic, and some of the young guys pushed the limits of allowable contact. At one point, after Darvin Ruise had come across and knocked Bud Sasser off of his feet with a bone-jarring hit, Coach Pinkel cautioned his players to back off, saying, "We don't want anyone getting hurt."
Afterwards, Coach Pinkel didn't seem too concerned about it.
"I thought we had a real high energy practice," said Coach Pinkel. "A lot of the younger players are now off of the scout team, and we're getting some special work with them. And, that's really good for them. It's all about developing great habits. What this allows us to do is to start developing those great practice habits, and doing Missouri stuff, instead of looking off of those cards..................... It's one of the benefits of bowl games, is to get all of this extra work."
It's clear that many of the 17 freshmen who were red-shirted this year are very interested in making an impression, and see these practices as a long-awaited opportunity to begin their assault on the depth chart.
The ones who immediately grabbed my attention are the same ones that we've been hearing about, among them are Ealy, Hunt, and Ruise.
During 1-on-1 pass rush drills, Kony Ealy showed tremendous explosion in blowing past Mark Hill, and Anthony Gatti. He even picked up a sack with a spin move he probably learned from Brad Madison. Another young defensive lineman who showed some real explosion was Marvin Foster. He blew past Travis Ruth on the inside, with a quick, powerful move that was quite impressive.
Among the young offensive linemen, Jack Meiners showed well, moving his feet to block Madison, and Michael Sam. Mitch Morse was impressive, demonstrating good technique, as well as the strength and athleticism, to garner wins over the likes of Brendan Donaldson and George White. The walk-on, Robert Luce, shows very good technique, but he's going to have to get a lot stronger, as Bart Coslet simply overpowered him on the way to the QB. Justin Britt did a nice job, as he took reps with the second unit at both center and guard. One of the more impressive young guys was Chris Freeman. Freeman showed a little mean streak today, in an after-the-whistle altercation with Lucas Vincent, and did a nice job of blocking on the edge, picking up a win over Ben Eskelson.
At the end of practice, the team went through conditioning drills, and most players shed their pads for the series of sprints. It was easy to see that Freeman is in much better shape than he was last summer. He looks better, and held up much better in the sprints. After several sprints, big Chris started to lag behind, and was clearly hurting. Jack Meiners came over to where Freeman was bent over, grabbing his shorts, and encouraged the big man to keep pushing.
"Come on, Chris," Meiners was heard to say, as he patted the big man on the shoulder.
Freeman has made significant improvement, and just needs to continue on his present path.
The highlight of the day was a catch that Jimmie Hunt made during 7-on-7s. Running down the middle of the field with his back to the line of scrimmage and the QB. Hunt looked over his left shoulder, then reached out with his right hand, and caught the ball with one hand, as it arrived over his right shoulder Jim Edmunds would have been proud.
Hunt really stands out all of the time. He possesses outstanding ability that's simply unmistakable.
Braylon Webb picked off a Tyler Gabbert pass, thrown over the middle. All of the young DBs look good. There's going to be some interesting competition for spots on the two-deep in the Tigers' secondary. Kenronte Walker looks real good.
Andrew Wilson was getting a lot of work in the middle, and dropped a couple of guys in their tracks. He's just a physical player, and even though he was clearly holding back on the contact, guys were paying for coming into his area.
During 7-on-7 drills, James Franklin found Brandon Gerau on a drag route for a nice gain. Franklin then hit L'Damian Washington on a hitch route out near the numbers on the right side, just in front of Robert Steeples.
Franklin hit Washington right in the hands as he ran down the right sideline. E.J. Gaines was right there in coverage, and the ball was perfectly placed, but Washington didn't make the catch. Franklin pulled it down, and took off up field for a nice gain. Then, Franklin scrambled to his right, and found Waters near the right sideline, for a first down. Franklin hit Bud Sasser right in stride, on a little slip screen over the middle. Sasser made a couple of people miss, then was sent sprawling, when Ruise arrived.