On Wednesday morning, the Missouri Tigers were back inside the Devine Pavilion for a physical practice in full pads that lasted for more than two hours.
“We had a great practice today,” said Coach Pinkel, following Wednesday’s practice. “There was great effort. Our players are doing really well. We’re pleased with it. You know, for everybody that’s doing something good, somebody else is making a mistake. But overall, I think we’re making a lot of strides.”
For the first time, A.J. Logan shed the red and was a full participant in practice. He moves well for such a thick man, and he appeared to fit right in, athletically, with the rest of the freshmen defensive linemen. Marcus Lucas wore a red jersey and sat out all drills, as did Wesley Leftwich and John Gibson.
Early in practice, as the rain held off, Coach Ford and some of the other coaches took the punt team specialists and return men outside onto the grass for some punt practice. Jake Hurrell, Sean Culkin, and Alec Abeln did the long-snapping for punters Christian Brinser and Preston Soper, while Marcus Murphy, E.J. Gaines, Ian Simon, and Aarion Penton handled the return duties. Later, back inside, the Tigers worked on punt protection and coverage. Red-shirt freshman Donavin Newsom is very active on special teams, and he's been making some noise at the linebacker position, as well. It appears to me that he is one of the young players who is really coming on this fall. He's been getting second team reps, and it appears to me that he is certainly one of Missouri's top six LBs, so maybe we'll see some adjustments to get him onto that second unit.
During defensive line drills, I noticed Michael Sam and Josh Augusta doing the same basic fundamental drills. Michael Sam is pretty much a known quantity as a quality major college defensive end. What was significant was seeing the 6'4” 300+ pound Augusta performing the same drills as Sam, and moving just as well while going through the various drills. Nate Crawford is another one. He's not quite as big as Augusta, but he and Augusta move just as well as does Michael Sam. The guy who can really move is Charles Harris! You can see why Coach Stec wanted to try Harris at LB. With the possible exception of Shane Ray, Harris is the fastest of Missouri's defensive linemen. He's longer than Ray, and it appears to me that he'll have no trouble getting up into the 260-265-pound range within a year or two under Coach Ivey.
During a pash rush drill, in which the pass rusher penetrates and then gets his hands up into the passing lane, Kony Ealy made a one-handed interception of a pass that was thrown from about 2 yards away. Ealy pulled it in and continued up field. As remarkable a play as that was, a little bit later in the drill I saw Nate Crawford and Harold Brantley pull off almost identical plays from about 3 yards away. Then, Charles Harris anticipated the pass, and quickly dropping back a step, he made a two-handed interception from about 5 yards away.
With John Gibson sidelined for a while, David Johnson has moved over behind Gaines into Gibson's vacated spot, and Xavier Smith has moved up behind Randy Ponder. This places Johnson on the first-team defense when Gaines slides over to cover the slot in Missouri's dime personnel package. So Johnson's getting a good look with the number one defense.
A couple of young corners who are catching my eye are David Sowell and Anthony Sherrils. Sowell appears to me to be the quickest, fastest, and most athletic walk-on corner that I've seen at Missouri under Coach Pinkel. He was here in the spring, and he's a little bit ahead of the other true freshmen corners. Sherrils is just so athletically gifted that his missteps are barely noticed. He absolutely explodes out of breaks and he possesses an abundance of recovery speed. He also has excellent ball skills, to go along with good size and very good strength. And he definitely brings physicality to the position. At times, he just flat outruns the football.
The other freshman corner, Penton, is just extremely quick. He's not the biggest guy, and he's learning how to play corner. But he too possesses an abundance of speed, quickness, ball skills, and just about every other ingredient that you'd look for in a cornerback. I can see why Coach Ford always smiles when someone begins to talk about his young corners.
Once again on Wednesday, as has been true all week, freshman receiver J'Mon Moore was very impressive! The Missouri receiving corps is loaded with quality, veteran receivers, and coming in, I didn't really expect Moore to be able to mount enough of a challenge to dent this year's playing rotation. But now, I'd say that Moore is at least an even bet to play this year. He's as talented as any receiver Missouri has that's not named Dorial Green-Beckham. He’s especially good on the deep ball, where he has displayed the ability to adjust to the ball in the air, and to come up with contested balls. Coach Pinkel talked about Moore and freshman tight end Jason Reese.
“They’re really talented kids,” said coach Pinkel, talking about Moore and Reese. “They’re real talented! Man! When we recruited Jason, he was 215 (pounds). He’s 242 right now. He looks like he’s 220. He’s a really, really athletic guy with great size potential. J’Mon is very talented, quick. They’re both of them very, very talented!”
I'm continuing to see improvement in Maty Mauk. Because of his faulty throwing mechanics, I'm skeptical of how accurate he can become, but there's no question that he's improving as a passer in the Missouri system. It's obvious that he has a much better idea of where he's going to go with the football, and that has helped him improve his completion percentage considerably. I don't think that he is yet up to where he needs to be, but he is certainly completing more than half of his passes, which was not the case this spring. And perhaps even more importantly for his overall development as a QB, he seems to be reducing his number of interceptions.
Overall, I think the team is practicing very well, and looking very good. Things still need to get synced up, but there's still time for that.
Coach Pinkel talked about some of what he’s looking for in practice.
“I’m always looking to make sure that we’re getting better every day,” explained Coach Pinkel. “With the veteran players, I’m looking for the consistency of practice. And now, when they’re working together as offense and defense, I’m looking for the continuity. That’s why August is so important for us, to get that kind of continuity. I think we’re making progress, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”