Aug. 15 Practice Report

The Tigers had their shortest practice of the fall season Sunday. Check inside for a look at the offensive line, along with how injuries have affected the number of repetitions Missouri's younger players receive.

How can redshirt freshmen Adam Spieker and Tyler Luellen possibly replace departed seniors Rob Droege and A.J. Ricker?

Quite simply, they cannot. The former are leading candidates to take the spots of the latter on the offensive line, but to expect the leadership, reliability, and strength Droege and Ricker provided may be too much to ask. Coach Gary Pinkel said he understands the challenges he has placed before the young linemen and hopes they can step up to them.

"Offensive line is a very difficult position to learn, just because of all the mental side of it, all the things that can happen to you, let alone learning how to master all of the skills," Pinkel said. "A lot of it has to do with the maturity level of the athlete. A player that might be a great player, he might have to redshirt to just mature a little bit better to compete at a high level."

Apparently, the coaching staff thinks highly of the maturity levels of Spieker and Luellen. From a physical standpoint, as witnessed this week in practice, neither of them will be pushed around often.

Luellen is a physical specimen, having filled out his 6-foot-7 frame with 295 pounds of bulk. His size alone is intimidating, but when you see him push around defenders that can match his weight, it is clear that Luellen has the tools to be an impact tackle.

Spieker is in a similar situation, having moved up to 305 pounds to round out his 6-3 frame. He has yet to have a poor snap in practice and looks very comfortable with junior QB Brad Smith behind him.

Palmer, the heaviest member of the line at 320 pounds, is the most physically dominant player of the returning linemen. He can easily throw a defender around, but has also shown to be aggressive against blitzing linebackers. This could become a concern if Palmer is too aggressive and misses blocks, but he should not give the coaching staff too many headaches.

Gianino moved over from center to guard when Spieker emerged. He has the quick lateral movement needed by pulling guards, but he will struggle against larger defensive tackles. Filling out the right side of the line is Paffrath, whose two years as a letterman should provide the veteran leadership needed to keep the line together.

The consistency of the offensive line has been notable, allowing the defense's top line to have little impact in 11-on-11 drills. Pinkel said the group was able to come together during the spring.

"We really developed as a unit," he said. "That O-line, it filled in pretty good. I think this O-line is gonna hold up. They've done a great job."

Should any members of the top unit falter, there are several experienced players waiting for an opportunity. Through the first week of practice, senior T Tony Clinker, freshman G Monte Wyrick, junior C Scott Wheatley, sophomore G Mike Cook and sophomore T Joel Clinger have served as the second team. Clinker and Wheatley have a significant amount of experience and could fill a hole if needed. Wyrick appears the most promising of the group. He is not as fluid as the starting guards, but still has the big body needed to establish the inside running game.

The offensive line will continue to adapt as fall practice continues. Little will be determined until after the second scrimmage, but Pinkel expects more than just effort through camp, even from his redshirt freshmen.

"There's a certain point where effort's not a factor," he said. "It's results. That's what the game situation is."

Getting a shot: Injuries to two potential starters have opened up doors for several of the younger members of the receiving corps. With juniors Sean Coffey and Chris Crosby currently limited, a handful of players have stepped up and made a statement.

The most notable is freshman Jason Ray. Ray joined the first team offense during the 11-on-11 drills the past few days and has not looked out of place. He has made several difficult catches, including a leaping grab on a pass over the middle from Smith.

With a redshirt season behind him, Ray looks to be a top candidate as the fourth receiver. Greg Bracey has also drawn attention in his first season out of the redshirt. Bracey's game-breaking speed is exactly what the coaching staff is looking for at the position. If he can show an ability to block downfield, Bracey should see action this season.

Farther down the depth chart, but perhaps making the most noise, is freshman Jerrill Humphrey. Humphrey has made several spectacular catches, and his athleticism is unmatched. Like fellow freshman William Franklin, if Humphrey can learn the Missouri system quickly, it will be difficult for the coaching staff to redshirt him.

Senior TB Beau Viehmann has earned many of the carries that freshman TB Tony Temple would have received. Viehmann has performed adequately with the second team offense and has the ability to run downhill and bounce off defenders. He, along with junior Lee Ewigman, is the top candidate to be the blocking back in short-yardage situations.

Injury update: The same four players--Crosby, Coffey, freshman TB Earl Goldsmith, and freshman LB Van Alexander--who wore the red jersey Saturday sported it Sunday. Coffey's separated shoulder is the only significant injury of the group.

Crosby appears close to full strength; he participated in the 11-on-11 drill Sunday for the first time since the injury occurred in the middle of the week. Goldsmith also took part in the 11-on-11, and looks close to full speed. Alexander's injury is also a hamstring. He participated in sprints after practice and should return to action soon.

Fans no fad: A few dozen fans came to watch a practice that, theoretically at least, was closed to the public. They had another chance to interact with the players at Fan Day Sunday afternoon.

Hundreds of fans ran down the hill when the Memorial Stadium gates opened, flooding the playing surface with well-wishers and autograph seekers. The quieter and less popular members of the team and coaching staff tried to stay off to the side, but the fans eventually made their way to everyone.

Catch of the day: Freshman DL Lorenzo Williams showed good hands, snatching up a deflected pass just before it hit the turf, for an interception in the 11-on-11 drill.

Hit of the day: A small sample size here, but sophomore LB Emmett Morris' hit on Ewigman late in the 11-on-11 drill earns top honors. The high hit, which came after Ewigman was spun around by another defender and was facing the backfield, dropped Ewigman to the ground hard.

Quote of the day: "Most of the time when it's hot, I don't like to wear it But since the weather's pretty cool, I figured I'd let it go." --Senior S Nino Williams, on his blown-out afro look for Sunday's team photo shoot.

Audibles: Freshman T Kyle Riggs was at practice for the first time. Riggs had surgery on his left shoulder in the offseason and will likely miss all of training camp, but he appears to be in good shape otherwise. … Junior S Justin Scott made a nice play on a deflected pass, grabbing it for an interception. Had the whistle not blown, Scott might have returned it for a score. … Freshman QB Chase Patton showed his downfield touch, finding Franklin behind the defense for a score in the 11-on-11 drill. … Sophomore DE Brian Smith is simply a playmaker. He almost had an interception Sunday, a day after nearly picking a pass off Saturday afternoon. Maybe his hands are why the coaching staff uses the undersized Smith on the defensive line. … Despite starting an hour later than scheduled, the practice was the shortest of the fall season, wrapping up in just 90 minutes.

Looking ahead: The Tigers return to two-a-days Monday, with a session at 8:15 in the morning and another at 3:45 in the afternoon.

Black & Gold Illustrated Top Stories