On Saturday morning, the Missouri Tigers practiced for over two hours in full pads on the Kadlec Athletic Fields. This was Missouri's final practice before classes begin on Monday, and before practices are moved to the afternoons when camp resumes on Tuesday.
For much of fall camp, the defense has had the better of it in the competition with the offense. But, during the past week, the offense had evened things up. On Saturday, the competition between the offense and the defense for the day, and indeed for the entirety of fall camp, and the bragging rights that goes with it, came down to a 45-yard field goal attempt which Andrew Baggett sent through the uprights, to secure the win for the offense.
Following practice, Offensive Coordinator Josh Henson talked about Saturday’s practice from an offensive perspective.
“It was a good practice,” said Coach Henson. “I wouldn’t call it great, but it was good. You know, we were able to come back at the end and make a few plays, and get our objectives done.”
Coach Henson talked about how the offense has progressed throughout camp.
“I think we’ve made strides in every area,” said Coach Henson. “I think our QBs are reading and playing better. I think our receivers are running more precise routes and catching the football better. I think our running game is improving. You know, I think that there’s a lot of good things going on. I think every part of the game got better. You know, we’ve just got to keep working.”
For the most part, the focus of camp has shifted from identifying the top 2-3 players at each position on the field to preparing those top players for the season, which begins two weeks from today, and to developing consistency and continuity within each unit. Following this coming Thursday's third and final scrimmage of fall camp, Missouri will begin game preparation for the season opener.
The third scrimmage on Thursday afternoon will also effectively mark the conclusion of fall camp, and represents a final opportunity for those several players still trying to climb up onto the two-deep Depth Chart, and to earn playing time this fall. Saturday's full pads workout was an important step in the direction of the shift in team focus, and very, very important as one of the final remaining opportunities for players on or near the cusp of the two-deep to lay claim to a spot in the playing rotation for the season opener.
At the start of Saturday's practice, just five players were either limited or sidelined by injuries. E.J. Gaines and Sheldon Gerau were in street clothes. Wesley Leftwich was back in a red jersey, and watching, while Greg White and L’Damian Washington wore red pull-overs, and took limited reps. Gaines' return is expected in time for the season opener. Washington is expected to return soon.
There were very few changes noted in the Depth Chart, the most significant one being at the cornerback position, where it remains to be seen who will start opposite Gaines, and which players will be included in the playing rotation. For the second straight day, Earnest Payton and Randy Ponder lined up as the starters. But on Saturday, Xavier Smith was lined up ahead of John Gibson and behind Ponder, and Aarion Penton was lined up ahead of David Johnson and behind Payton. I suspect that's an indication that the competition between Johnson, Penton, Gibson, and Smith is even, or very, very close. I suspect that the competition at cornerback may very well continue into next month.
The competition at the safety position appears to be pretty well settled. It looks like for now that the Tigers will go with Braylon Webb at one safety spot, and with Ian Simon and Matt White at the other safety spot. Duron Singleton is still undergoing a crash course, trying to catch up, and in time we may see him on the field at safety this season.
Kentrell Brothers has continued to stand out on a daily basis and he has distanced himself from the competition at the WLB position. On the other side at SLB, Donavin Newsom has been one of fall camp's bright spots, as he continues to challenge Clarence Green for that second-team spot. The competition appears to have elevated Green's play, as well.
The two-deep Depth Chart at the defensive line positions has been stable since true freshman Josh Augusta was elevated to the number five defensive tackle spot.
“I like our guys,” said Coach Kuligowski, talking about his defensive linemen. “I think we’re doing a good job of playing physical. I think that this is a good group. We’ve got a lot of guys. And, I feel good about how they’re going to do this year.”
Coach Kul indicated that he would like to play five DEs and five DTs, but he was noncommittal regarding how many will play, and whether or not Augusta will play this year.
The charade that was the QB competition is officially over, and the Tigers will head into the 2013 season with James Franklin as the starter, and with Maty Mauk trying to earn some in-game reps as the back-up. In truth, Franklin blew the doors off the competition from the first day of Spring Football.
On Thursday, Missouri completed nine passes to their tight ends, lending some evidence that the tight end position may be a big part of the Missouri offense this year. Coach Henson suggested that the Tigers will play three tight ends, including Clayton Echard, whom it appears has established himself as a blocking TE in short-yardage packages. It’s not clear whether or not freshman Jason Reese will play.
“(Eric Waters) and Sean (Culkin) are both really improved from camp,” said Coach Henson. “I think we’re headed to where we want to be at that spot………………………………………… I think those two guys are doing a really nice job. You know, I think Jason Reese is a guy that with reps could help us, if need be. I think he’s got a really bright future!”
The Depth Chart at TB has remained stable throughout camp, although it is unclear as to who will handle the short-yardage duties.
Missouri’s WRs are a deep and talented group, and they’ve improved during fall camp. Darius White’s stock has really gone up, and for now, Jaleel Clark is holding off the challenge from true freshman J’Mon Moore.
With Jordan Williams’ move to second-team right guard, the two-deep up front appears to be set. It’s a vastly improved group over a year ago, when many of these same youngsters were pressed into duty before they were ready.
With Murray State just two weeks away, Saturday’s practice served as a marker during Missouri’s month-long preparation for the upcoming season. As the Tigers head into the final week of fall camp, there’s a lot of optimism within the team and around the program.