With a full-length scrimmage already scheduled for Saturday afternoon, the Missouri coaching staff decided to switch things up, splitting the scrimmage into two segments.
The first half will be held Tuesday morning, giving the coaches an early first look at how their players have progressed in the first eight days of practice. The second segment comes in the regularly schedule spot, Saturday. The Tigers will run about 35 plays in each scrimmage, instead of 20 on Tuesday and 55 on Saturday, as was originally planned. Another, smaller scrimmage is scheduled for Aug. 26.
Coach Gary Pinkel said the scrimmages are a time for players to prove themselves in a game atmosphere, but that faring well in scrimmage is not enough to shoot up the depth chart.
"We won't just take the scrimmage," he said. "We'll take all the practices up through then. Certainly, we look at this more of a game type atmosphere. Even though you might have done well or maybe not as good as you'd have liked, (a scrimmage lets the coaches) see how you do in a game. We have to kind of look at all those things."
The top two units will receive the majority of the reps, but there will be time for the third- and fourth-stringers, too. The coaching staff lays out the entire scrimmage in advance, choosing which offensive unit will run which play against which defense.
"We script the entire scrimmage," Pinkel said. "There are particular segments of 1s against 1s and 1s against 2s. We do a lot of 1s against 1s in practice, so I don't feel compelled to do a lot in scrimmages…
"It's all scripted out. There won't be as many situations tomorrow, the reason being is that, at 10 practices, there are some situations we're not ready to do yet. Saturday we'll do a lot more."
There are several jobs up for grabs at this point, and the scrimmage should help determine where players will fit in. Here is a look at some of the more heated competition.
Tailback is an intriguing position, as the Tigers have two talented runners with completely different styles. Junior TB Damien Nash, the projected starter, has the speed to run around defenders but also the strength to bowl them over. He has split practice time with freshman TB Marcus Woods, whose blazing speed makes him hard to keep on the bench.
Pinkel suggested using a two-back set in the spring, but has yet to bring that out this fall. If Woods performs well, particularly behind the second-team defensive line, he might surpass Nash on the depth chart.
The wide receiver group seems to change every day. Injuries to juniors Sean Coffey and Chris Crosby have wreaked havoc on the rotation, but several youngsters have stepped up.
Freshman Jason Ray has likely made the biggest impact, performing well with the first team in practice this past weekend. Jerrill Humphrey and Greg Bracey have also drawn attention, making this position particularly cluttered. If any of these players show an ability to run sharp routes and block downfield, one may find himself as a starter.
The redshirt freshmen on the offensive line need to show they can perform in a game atmosphere. C Adam Spieker and T Tyler Luellen jumped ahead of more experienced linemen in the spring, but this is the opportunity for those upperclassmen to regain their spots.
The depth at defensive end, where senior Zach Ville, sophomores Xzavie Jackson and Brian Smith, and freshman Calcius Williams, among others, are fighting for two spots, will be explored in the scrimmage. Smith had a great first week and should challenge both Ville and Jackson for a starting position.
Kicker is likely the murkiest position at this point. A trio of talented walk-ons are pushing sophomore K Alex Pettersen, the only scholarship player of the group, for his starting spot.
Through Sunday, according to Pinkel, Pettersen had the inside track on the field goal duties. While nobody has shown to be consistently accurate, freshman Scott Russell and junior Joe Tantarelli have performed the best thus far.
Pettersen made one of his longest field goals of the fall Monday afternoon, a 41-yarder that had plenty of distance. Tantarelli hit one from the same length a few minutes later, while Crossett and Russell missed wide.
Freshman Adam Crossett appears to be the leader for kick-offs, but Russell could challenge there, too.
InsideMizzou will have an update on all these positions, and more, after the scrimmage.
Injury updates: Some good news for the Tigers on this front: Crosby participated in all segments of the morning practice without the red jersey for the first time since Wednesday. Crosby had tweaked a hamstring and stuck to non-contact drills the past few days, but felt well enough to do it all Monday.
Coffey also looks to be recovering well from a separated left shoulder. He took part in most of the morning practice, sitting out the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. He even made a diving catch in one drill, drawing the ire of the coaching staff.
Freshman TB Earl Goldsmith and freshman LB Van Alexander also sat out the contact drills Monday morning.
A passing fancy: The passing game was the best it has been all fall Monday morning. Every segment of the offense performed well in the 7-on-7 drills: the quarterbacks, particularly junior Brad Smith, made consistently good reads and accurate throws. The wide receivers dropped very few passes, and managed consistent yards after the catch. And the tight ends, who continue to be a focal point, also stood out, especially senior TE Victor Sesay.
There was crispness to the drill that had been lacking last week. The second and third team seemed to benefit from the success of the top unit, as the youngsters turned in some of their best performances of their Missouri careers.
Unfortunately, the passing game reverted to its struggles in the 11-on-11 drill. The defense dominated, especially up front, where the line moved into the backfield almost immediately several times.
Shuffling the deck: Pinkel detailed the process he uses for informing players of movement on the depth chart.
"First of all, you call the player in privately and say ‘You got moved down,'" he said. "You tell them to get their job back…
"The player that moved up, we congratulate him but say, ‘We just told the guy that moved down to get his job back so you better keep your job.' We put it all on them from a competitive standpoint."
Oh so special: The leading candidates for special teams play seem to change daily. Here is a look at how they lined up Monday.
Freshmen Woods, WR Trenile Washington and CB Alex Woodley and seniors WR Thomson Omboga and CB Shirdonya Mitchell all received punts. It was Washington's first crack at the drill in several days, replacing senior S Nino Williams, who took punts Sunday. (Freshman William Franklin replaced Washington in the afternoon's kickoff drills.)
Omboga and Woods seem to have the best shots at the job, but Woods has routinely struggled with handling punts, an issue the coaching staff would likely not want to deal with.
Woods, Mitchell, Woodley, sophomore WR Brad Ekwerekwu, and freshman WRs William Franklin and Greg Bracey returned kickoffs. Bracey seems a natural fit, with his sprinter-quality speed. Mitchell, another speedster, has also gotten numerous reps here.
Freshmen OL John Dirk, TE Josh Barbo and DL Steven Blair handled the long-snapping for punts, while senior Zach Strom and freshmen DL Lorenzo Williams and OL David Lazaroff handled the field-goal snapping duties. As a whole, the field goal unit has been more consistent with its snaps. Strom, who worked as a punt snapper in the afternoon session, may claim both long-snapping jobs.
Catch of the day: In the red zone portion of the 11-on-11 drill Monday morning, sophomore QB Brandon Coleman scrambled to his left and found freshman TE Jason Gannon, who made a tumbling catch for an eight-yard score.
Hit of the day: Sophomore DE Brian Smith, dropping back into zone pass coverage, leveled sophomore TE DeQuincy Howard, who had caught a short pass on a crossing route. The hit dropped Howard hard to the turf and brought the loudest cheer from the defense, which dominated 11-on-11, in the morning practice.
Quote of the day: "I had to yell at him. How about that, yelling at him for trying hard?" --Pinkel, on Coffey's diving catch in the morning practice.
Audibles: Sophomore WR Andrew Hoskins was the star of the short afternoon session. Hoskins, who has switched to No. 37, made several nice running grabs and was Missouri‘s best receiver of the day. The coaching staff rewarded him several reps with the second team. ... Senior TB Beau Viehmann has been impressive, for both his hard running and his leadership. A walk-on turned captain, Viehmann runs hard and breaks tackles with ease. He was the blocking back in the Tigers' short-yardage set, which the team practiced for the first time Monday morning. ... Freshman QB Chase Patton has come a long way in a week. He looks much more confident in the pocket, and made several good throws Monday. The competition for the third spot looks to be between him and fellow freshman Darrell Jackson, as freshman Mack Breed seems to have regressed since the beginning of last week. ... The speed of the linebacker corps is impressive. They can easily move sideline to sideline, with sophomore MLB Dedrick Harrington swiftly dragging down junior TB Damien Nash for no gain in the red zone drill Monday morning.
Looking ahead: The Tigers will practice, then scrimmage Tuesday morning at 8:15. Two-a-days continue on an every-other-day schedule, with another scrimmage scheduled for Saturday.