On Sunday evening, the Missouri Tigers held their final practice before heading out to Shreveport. The Tigers practiced for a couple of hours in shorts, helmets, and shoulder pads, in what is traditionally referred to as "NFL Day". Players exchange jerseys, and some wear NFL gear, which makes it very challenging for anyone trying to keep track of who's who.
"Overall, it was a good practice," said Coach Pinkel. "Today was important for us, because we had recruiting in the morning, our players needed to get a good lift in, and we needed to get some game plan in prior to practice………………………………… Practice was an NFL Day for us. They got to do things that they're normally not allowed to do. But overall, it was good."
Following the regular practice, offensive and defensive skill players switched sides of the ball for a fun time in a 7-on-7 contest. Kip Edwards played QB, and he was quickly victimized by Jerrell Jackson, who made a spectacular diving interception of an Edwards' pass attempt. But, Edwards bounced back, and quickly identified E.J. Gaines as his favorite receiver. Gaines had a number of receptions. The offensive-players-turned-defenders began to double team Gaines, but that proved to be ineffective, as Gaines showed the ability to get open, and to go up and make catches in traffic.
Another bit of excitement sprung up during the 1-on-1 pass-rush drill. Sheldon Richardson won a closely contested battle with Mark Hill, who continued to block Richardson, despite giving up ground that resulted in both players ending up at the QB. A late push was answered, which was answered, and which instantly escalated into a full out fight. I didn't see anyone land punches, but both players wrestled to the turf, and they were really going at it for a few seconds before players and coaches intervened. Justin Britt and Dominique Hamilton were among several players who physically pulled Richardson away, then held onto him until he fairly quickly composed himself. Both players had lost their helmets, and Hill kicked Richardson's helmet away, as he rose to his feet. Elvis Fisher affectionately patted Hill on the shoulder, then said in a loud voice, "Well, now you've met each other."
Richardson is a jovial, fun-loving guy. But, he has a mean streak, too. And Hill is a lot tougher than his appearance would suggest. I'm starting to think more and more that Hill will see a lot of playing time next year. He's versatile, and he's been steadily improving. I think we could see Hill in the starting line-up to open spring ball.
Players went home on Monday, and will meet back up, either in Columbia or Shreveport, on Wednesday. Some programs would keep their players here, and practice twice a day. But, Coach Pinkel believes that, in the big picture, this is the right way to do it. That's not to say that Coach Pinkel doesn't value winning the bowl game.
"You know how I am," said Coach Pinkel. "I want to win! That's real important to us. You want to be known as a team that does well in the post-season……………………………… I was real disappointed last year. I thought we played well, but we just didn't finish. The year before, we didn't play well at all."
Coach Pinkel cited the importance of winning this bowl game going forward.
The Tigers spent much of their practice time working against North Carolina (scout team). Early on, James Franklin hit T.J. Moe down the middle of the field on a deep post route. That was well-executed. Franklin found Michael Egnew for a completion out along the right sideline. Franklin faked a hand-off, then hit De'Vion Moore out in the right flat for a nice gain. Franklin found Jerrell Jackson out in the right seam for a first down.
Corbin Berkstresser hit Jerrell Jackson on a deep route down the left hash mark. Jackson had gotten behind the North Carolina defense for what appeared to be a touchdown.
During 1-on-1 pass-rush drills, Dan Hoch blocked Kony Ealy. Jayson Palmgren stopped Lucas Vincent. Dominique Hamilton bull-rushed his way past Mark Hill. Brayden Burnett beat Taylor Chappell to the outside. Chris Freeman started out well, but then Ealy got past him for the sack. Mitch Morse picked up a win over Marvin Foster. Michael Sam ripped his way past Chappell.
Chappell needs to get stronger, but he moves very well, and has pretty good technique. I'd say that he's the most advanced of the 2011-class offensive linemen. He also looks like he's the one with the highest ceiling. I think he's a left tackle, and it appears that the coaching staff thinks so, too.
Of the 2010-class offensive linemen, Morse is out in front. He's pretty athletic, moves well, and has pretty good technique. He needs to get stronger for sure, but he's getting closer.
Jimmie Hunt continues to make plays on a daily basis. I'm looking forward to seeing Hunt in the spring. Marcus Murphy has been getting a lot of carries against the Missouri defense, working out of the back field for the scout team, running inside the tackles. He's been very impressive, especially considering that the scout team offensive line doesn't usually win the line of scrimmage. He's another one I want to get a good look at this spring.