Practice Report: August 9th

The Tigers kicked off fall practice with a brisk workout Monday afternoon and InsideMizzou was there. Check inside for the latest developments as Missouri begins working toward its most anticipated season in years.

Not surprisingly, coach Gary Pinkel did not slowly work his players back into form as the 2004 Tigers began fall practice Monday.

"We don't ease into anything," he said afterward. "That's not in my vocabulary."

The Tigers worked through sprints, positional drills, seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills Monday, the first of 14 consecutive days of practice. There was almost no contact, but the practices were spirited enough to make it a demanding opening day for the Tigers.

While nothing can be proved in one afternoon, Pinkel said the day was an important first step in making a handful of decisions that will shape the roster. There are significant battles on the offensive line, at wide receiver, in the secondary, and on special teams. Every practice gives each player a chance to make an impression on the coaching staff.

Pressed to pick the most pressing issue, Pinkel focused on continuing to improve defensively.

"For the first couple of years we were here, we were very, very poor on defense," Pinkel said. "Last year we knocked it up a few notches. We made a step, but now can we make the next step, with as many returning starters as we have, with the adjustments we've made."

The coaches got a brief look at the revamped defense Monday, and it performed well, especially in the secondary. Stopping the run continues to be a concern, but the defensive backs, particularly Shirdonya Mitchell and Calvin Washington, were very aggressive in knocking passes away from the receivers.

The restructured linebacker corps also fared well, with Dedrick Harrington looking comfortable at MLB.

As a whole, the defense outperformed the offense Monday. All issues of timing aside, Pinkel said he projects the defense to be the best he has had at Missouri.

"I certainly think that, athletically, we're a different football team," he said. "Now does that transfer over to good football players and a good football team? That's my job."

Another pressing issue is the development of the Tiger freshmen, one of the top classes in recent history. There is a lot of talent in the class, including highly rated QBs Darrell Jackson and Chase Patton, TB Tony Temple and WR Jerrill Humphrey. All four players have established talent ahead of them on the depth chart and will struggle to get much, if any, playing time this season, but Pinkel hopes to see progress as two-a-days approach. But he does not expect too much right away.

"I expect them to make mistakes," he said of the freshmen. "Compared to high school, things are at a blazing speed right now for them. They're not used to playing against that. That's all transition, that's all part of learning, that's all part of adjusting. They'll get better each and every practice."

Mistakes are most easily noted when quarterbacks struggle, and it was apparent Monday. Jackson and Patton repeatedly attempted to force passes into coverage during the drills, and Patton even had one attempt intercepted by S Quincy Wade. He also fumbled a snap in another drill.

Pinkel suggested the jump from high school to college is very demanding of young quarterbacks.

"That's a huge jump; very, very difficult, even if you're smart, even if you're talented, even if you're good. We have a few freshmen in here that are described that way. You just have to keep going at it and keep going better."

That will be the theme for every player throughout practice, as the Tigers attempt to pare a cluttered roster into the shape it needs to be to perform in the Big 12.

Many questions remain, and Pinkel said he hopes to see some of them answered in the coming weeks.

"Some of those, we won't know the answer to until the end of the season," he said. "But certainly, there are areas we have to hit the hardest. It will be interesting to see how it all sorts out."

New faces: Eight walk-ons--seven freshmen and a junior--are on the updated roster, released before practice. Six of them are linemen; Colin Brown, Andy Hille, Josh Lollis, and Michael Obradovits will provide depth for the offensive line, while Aaron Brown will contribute on the defensive front. Two kickers, Scott Russell and Joe Tantarelli, will attempt to unseat sophomore Alex Pettersen, the team's lone scholarship kicker. High school star, Tommy Saunders will attempt to earn a spot in the already-crowded receiving corps.

Despite missing some names and faces on the roster, Pinkel said every player arrived that the coaching staff expected to show.

Comfortable Columbia?: Albeit a sunny afternoon, the temperature only reached the mid-80s as the Tigers practiced without pads. Instead of the stifling humidity of a typical August afternoon in Missouri, it was almost pleasant Monday. Despite some objections from his players, Pinkel agreed.

"Our players acted like they were dying out there but it wasn't really that hot at all," he said. Feeling fine: Tailback Damien Nash deemed himself 100 percent Monday, completely pain-free throughout practice.

"No pain at all," he said afterward. "My offseason workouts proved that my quickness is back and my speed is back. The little pain that I felt last year is gone." Hit of the day: There was little contact allowed, but one stood out, albeit an accident. While the defensive backs practiced their back-pedaling routine, S Jason Simpson bent down at the end of his drill. S Nino Williams, the next in line, barreled toward Simpson backwards, unaware of his presence. Despite warnings from his teammates, Williams could not stop his momentum in time and tumbled over Simpson. Catch of the day: TE DeQuincy Howard reached out and made a one-handed grab of a slightly overthrown Brandon Coleman pass in a drill halfway through practice. WR Sean Coffey also had an over-the-shoulders catch on a fade from QB Brad Smith late in the practice.

Quote of the day: "If we won the national championship, you think that would be some degree of concern. If we won the Big 12 Championship, maybe a little bit of concern. Or if we had an awesome bowl game and won nine games. As it was, we got blown out in the bowl game and only won eight games in a 12-game schedule, which is like winning seven games in an 11-game schedule. We did some good things, but we couldn't win two games in a row. So for the life of me, how can you be overconfident in anything? We haven't done anything to be overconfident. Other than that, I don't have much opinion on it."

-- Pinkel, on whether his team is overconfident because of preseason rankings and media prognostications.

Audibles: The Tigers' defensive line is one of its strongest points, but several depth players, including Fabian Bean, struggled in their mobility drills. CB Shirdonya Mitchell intercepted a Mack Breed pass and returned it for a "touchdown" in the seven-on-seven drill, prompting one teammate to encourage him to spike it, suggesting it would be the only one he would score all year. The defense was actually very strong throughout practice; CB Calvin Washington stripped the ball from TB Marcus Woods on the play immediately following the Mitchell interception.

Looking ahead: The Tigers practice every day this week at 3:45 p.m. at Memorial Stadium, weather permitting. Two-a-days begin Saturday morning. You'll get complete coverage and analysis right here at InsideMizzou.com.


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