On Monday morning, the Missouri Tigers practiced for over two hours under cloudy skies in full pads on the grass fields adjacent to the Missouri Athletic Training Complex. The players were noticeably enthused to be practicing in full pads for the first time this spring. During stretching, Missouri Strength & Conditioning Coach Pat Ivey asked all the players if anyone would give him their pads for this first full pad practice. There were no takers, as everyone was looking forward to the full contact, although his query did evoke one somewhat humorous response.
“Ask me again tomorrow,” replied one veteran player.
So, it begins. Monday was the first of five straight days of full contact heading into the team's first scrimmage on Saturday. This week, concluding on Saturday, plays a major role in the sorting out process that will identify the players who will constitute the two-deep heading into the season. Even as early as Day 5 of fall camp, it's already becoming apparent that certain of the freshmen are very likely to sit this season out, and take a red-shirt while joining Coach Ivey's Gun Club this fall. Others are definitely in the mix to be a part of the playing rotation.
Following practice, Coach Pinkel talked about his team’s first day in full pads.
“I thought we had a real good practice, said Coach Pinkel. “It was very, very competitive. It got down to the very end, the last couple of plays. But, that’s what you really always want it to be. The defense won, but it was very, very competitive. When it goes down to the last two or three plays, we’re getting out of it what we want to. So, I thought the effort was really good. And, I thought we became a lot better football team.”
There was some good news on the injury front, as Nate Crawford has returned to full participation. A.J. Logan has been upgraded to wearing a red pull-over, and he participated in some drills. I don't know if he'll make it back in time for this first scrimmage, but it looks like he's getting closer. Xavier Smith wore a red jersey with a foot injury, and sat out all drills. Wesley Leftwich suffered a strained hamstring during Monday’s practice, and he will miss some time.
I didn't see any changes in the Depth Chart, except that Josh Augusta had moved up to third team right behind Foster. It appears to me that Augusta is being fitted for a game day jersey, as he already appears to be Missouri's number 5 defensive tackle. He's going to be getting second-team reps this week, so we'll see if any of those offensive linemen can block him. None of the third or fourth-team guys did.
During the spring, the defensive line was a position of strength for Mizzou, and the addition of several quality freshmen defensive linemen makes that an even stronger position. Coach Pinkel talked about the young defensive linemen.
“We evaluate personnel every single day,” explained Coach Pinkel. “We’re going to go in there today, starting at twelve-o’clock and watch the whole practice, and I’ll start with the offensive line and we’ll go through the whole board and talk about every player on the (team). Coach Kul said that this is the best group of young defensive linemen that we’ve ever had since we’ve been here. And, that’s saying a lot……………………………………… And, he’s real conservative……………………………………… You have to prove things to him. So, I’m really encouraged by that group of guys! That’s a position, obviously, that’s a real impact position.”
Alex Abeln and Joe Burkett joined Jake Hurrell and Sean Culkin to do some of the long-snapping for the punters, while Mitch H. Hall and Nick Monaghan handled the bulk of the long-snapping for placements. Also getting in on some of the long-snapping for placements was Clay Rhodes and Jason Reese.
Along the offensive line, Justin Britt and Anthony Gatti each appear to be relatively healthy, and both players are performing as well or nearly as well as they ever have. Just to their right, Max Copeland and Mitch L. Hall are doing a good job and are engaged in a close competition for the starting job. Right now, it looks like we'll see both players on the field in a two-man rotation at that left guard spot. It's that close! The good news is that Copeland is better than he was a year ago. He's bigger and stronger after a strong off-season, and it speaks well of his performance that Hall has not simply overtaken him. Hall has tremendous size and strength, and really just needs to improve his technique to become a high-caliber SEC guard. On the other side, Connor McGovern is really standing out. He already appears to have developed into a high-caliber guard. He's really displays the whole package of size and strength to go with good athleticism and sound technique. In the SEC, no matter how strong you are, you have to play with good technique. Like Britt and Gatti, Taylor Chappell is mostly healthy, and he gives the Tigers a quality back-up behind Mitch Morse.
During one practice segment, the tight ends joined the offensive linemen to hit the sled. I got a good look at Jason Reese, as he worked alongside of Eric Waters. There's not much difference in their size, but Reese is by far the quicker and more athletic of the two. He's getting a crash course in playing tight end, as is converted DE Clayton Echard. Of course, the tight end who really stands out is Sean Culkin. He's got real good size and is very athletic, as well. He's a very good receiver, and I think he'll be a primary part of Missouri's passing game this season.
Observing Missouri's quarterbacks is beginning to reveal a few early trends. For one, there’s nothing to suggest that James Franklin will not be the starting QB. He’s Missouri’s best QB, and frankly, it isn’t even close.
Behind Franklin, there is quite a battle going on to determine the pecking order going forward. The work that Maty Mauk has done this summer in familiarizing himself with the Missouri passing game has helped his completion percentage this fall, although his flawed delivery still inhibits his passing accuracy. He has a very strong arm, but his passes aren’t as on target as they need to be. Still, he appears to have improved, and he also appears to be improving. But, the most rapidly improving QB is Trent Hosick. He appears to know the offense very well, particularly for a freshman, and he’s rapidly improving as a passer. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, but it’s strong enough, and he’s one of Missouri’s most accurate passers, as well as being a factor in the run game.
Right now, Hosick is taking reps with the third and fourth-team offense. Mauk is getting some first-team reps, and most of the second-team reps. It’ll be interesting to see if Hosick can start getting some second-team reps.
That’s a theme that’s being repeated throughout the team at a number of positions; young players are trying to move up, trying to earn reps with the second team or the first team so they can prove themselves worthy of a promotion. There’s good competition all over the field, and it really serves to help make everyone better. There may be some upward movement on the Depth Chart this week, as with Augusta, but the major opportunity to move up will hinge on this Saturday’s scrimmage