On Wednesday morning, the Missouri Tigers practiced for nearly two hours in full pads on the Kadlec Athletic Fields. Practice was shortened in preparation for Thursday's second scrimmage of fall camp.
“We’re scrimmaging tomorrow, and our goal is going to be to get 35 plays for the ones, twos, and threes,” explained Coach Pinkel, following Wednesday’s practice. “So what we did today is we really cut back about 35 minutes of practice, and we really focused more on just the competitive drills, and the group and team drills. We had a real good practice. We backed off a little bit as far as time is concerned, but we certainly had a real good practice. I thought it was physical. It came down to the end. It’s been very competitive, which is good. That’s a plus. And, I’m pleased with the effort of our team. It’s going to be an important scrimmage tomorrow, as every day is important as we’re counting down to our first kickoff.”
With E.J. Gaines sidelined at least through the end of the week, the alignment at the cornerback position heading into Thursday's scrimmage is as follows: Randy Ponder and John Gibson are with the first-team defense, and Ernest Payton and Aarion Penton are with the second team defense. Both of Penton and Payton continue to take some first-team reps. It appears that those four, in addition to Gaines, once he returns, will comprise the playing rotation at corner back as the Tigers head into the season. Third-team corners David Johnson and Xavier Smith are still officially in the competition, and Johnson's had a good week of practice following a dismal showing last Saturday, but at this juncture, it looks to me like Payton and Penton are pulling away from the guys behind them on the depth chart.
“It’s very competitive there,” explained Coach Pinkel, talking about the cornerback position. “All of those guys are competing. We’ve had guys from three, two, up to one, back and forth. So you know, it’s all about competition…………………………………… We’re seeing a lot of good things. We’re pleased with that.”
Coach Pinkel said that Gaines is expected to be back in time for the season-opener.
“He’s going to be back in a week, and be ready for our first game,” explained Coach Pinkel, speaking of Gaines. “He’s obviously one of our best defensive players.”
Wesley Leftwich continues to be sidelined, as well, and it doesn't appear that he'll participate on Thursday, either. Greg White was on the sidelines in a red jersey on Wednesday. His status for Thursday is in question.
Everyone else appears to be ready to go on Thursday, including Henry Josey, who was back on the field on Wednesday. With White out, Morgan Steward and Tyler Hunt each moved up, and saw action with the second-team offense.
Heading into Thursday, there are several heated position battles to watch. In addition to the competition at cornerback, where one starting spot is still up for grabs, and where the playing rotation is still undetermined, there's young players all over the field who are stepping forward and challenging for playing time.
One of the more exciting young players who has been outstanding during camp, and who is making a strong impression on a daily basis is RSF LB Donavin Newsom. He's playing fast, he's especially good in coverage, and he's making plays all over the field.
The competition at the safety position is still very much open. Braylon Webb has been playing well, and he appears to have solidified his hold on one starting job, but the other starting position is still very much up for grabs. In addition to the ongoing competition between fifth-year senior Matt White and sophomore Ian Simon, it will be interesting to mark the progress of the newly-arrived junior college transfer, Duron Singleton. How much action will Singleton see on Thursday, and will he be able to catapult himself into the midst of the battle for a starting job, or at least some early-season playing time?
“We’re going to push him in there a little bit,” said Coach Pinkel, speaking of Singleton. “He’s not like a high-school player. He’s coming with some junior-college experience. So, he’s played at a higher level than high school. We can jump some of the depth a little bit, just to find out and see what we have, and see where he’ll fit in………………………………………… He’s a real good athlete. He’s quick, competitive, and tough. He just has to learn our system…………………………………………… We recognize that he’s probably going to make some mistakes there, but we’re just looking at potentially, can this guy come in and get in the depth, and possibly start, and compete? So, we’ll see what happens.”
Decision-time is getting close for the Missouri staff. They like to allow the competition between the players make those decisions, but time is running out. So, Thursday’s scrimmage is an important component in the decision-making process, particularly at those positions where the competition is close, and where things are still pretty much undecided.
Developing continuity on the offensive side of the football has been an emphasis with the coaching staff this week, and it’s likely that will continue on Thursday. But, I think that Thursday is primarily about settling on the players who will play for Missouri this year, inasmuch as that can be settled at this time. There’s one more scrimmage after tomorrow, but the time, and with it the opportunities to climb the depth chart, are dwindling, so much of the depth will be decided after tomorrow, except for the closest of position battles.