A question about the development of senior LB James Kinney launched coach Gary Pinkel into a discussion on leadership Thursday morning. Pinkel detailed how the coaching staff nurtures leaders, along with the connection between a good player and a good leader. Although many of the ideas were connected to Kinney, Pinkel explained exactly what he expects from all of his veteran players, including the maturity to take the reins on the field.
Put quite simply, Pinkel said a good leader has to be a good player first.
"You can't stand up in front of your team and say, ‘This is how you do it guys. You gotta listen to me,' if you're not playing well," he said.
Pinkel makes this very clear to his team captains, explaining that being a captain and being a player have nothing to do with each other.
"You're like anybody else out here; if you get beat out, you get beat out," he said. "You've gotta produce. They have to understand that, that you have to be a good football player to have the respect, to get the leadership."
A vital aspect of the leadership role, Pinkel explains, is being able to lead your team onto the field in pressure-packed situations. Without such a player, a team is forced to look outside for help. That is something the Missouri coaching staff refuses to let happen.
"The biggest thing you need is on-the-field leaders," Pinkel said. "You need off-field leaders, you need locker-room leaders, you need all those people. The other side of it is, when things get tough on that field, who's gonna run that team out there? We won't call timeout and have coach (Christensen) come down and go in and give them a pep talk, or coach Eberflus."
Coaxing leadership out of a player is a concept Pinkel said the coaching staff believes in, along with each player taking accountability for his actions. This mindset allows the more timid players to step forward, along with the further development of those with natural leadership skills.
"We have leadership meetings all of the time," Pinkel said. "I meet with my leadership council this afternoon. I think some kids are more natural leaders, but you can talk to kids when they're young about what good leaders do. You can point out good leaders."
Here is where Kinney comes into play. Pinkel said there are many players on the defensive side of that ball that are observing the senior captain constantly, hoping to emulate his actions, both on and off the field.
"There's some young linebackers right now that are watching everything James Kinney does, in the meetings, how he reacts to difficulty, how he reacts to positive things," he said. "That's all just leadership by example."
As for the development of this year's group of captains, Pinkel said they have done "OK" to this point. He said he expects many players, especially on the veteran defense, to step up when faced with difficult situations.
"We need more on-the-field leaders, especially in adverse conditions," he said.
"It's easy to lead when things are going well. I've got them all over the place (then)."
Injury update: Senior WR Thomson Omboga returned to practice Thursday morning for the first time since he suffered a rib injury Monday. Omboga practiced with the red "no contact" jersey, but participated in the majority of the drills, making a few catches in the 11-on-11. Pinkel said he expects Omboga to be ready to go for Saturday's scrimmage.
All of the other minor injuries appear to have cleared up. Junior TB Damien Nash returned to full strength, after slipping on the red pullover yesterday because of a hamstring injury. Junior WRs Sean Coffey and Chris Crosby appear to be near 100 percent, and freshman TB Earl Goldsmith, who had been bothered by a thigh injury, had a strong practice as well.
Kicking around an idea: The kicking game continues to clarify itself every day. Two remain in the running to handle kick-off duties: sophomore Alex Pettersen and freshman walk-on Adam Crossett, with Crossett having the best performance Thursday. Crossett sent all of his kicks into the end zone, including one more than five yards deep. Pettersen could not match that distance, with his kicks routinely dropping near the 10-yard line.
Pettersen, Crossett, and junior walk-on Joe Tantarelli remain in the hunt as place-kickers. Pettersen has been the leader through the first 11 days of practice, but he struggled Thursday, missing two kicks very wide and coming up short on another. Tantarelli did not have a particularly good day either, missing two long kicks. Tantarelli's tries had the distance to split the uprights, but sailed wide.
Pinkel said he would be willing to carry multiple kickers once the season arrives.
"We've done that before," he said. "There's a difference; you can win the kicking job and you can win the PAT/field goal job. In some respects, it covers you for a backup kicker, because if you don't do that, you have to train somebody else in your program to be able to go out and make a PAT, at least that. It allows us to really cover two areas, if we choose to do that."
Pettersen and Crossett would likely be the two if the season started tomorrow, but Crossett has not show an accurate leg. He missed an extra point Thursday, clanking it off the right upright.
Temple almost there: Freshman TB Tony Temple practiced in shoulder pads and shorts for the second consecutive day. Because he missed a week of practice, Temple missed a chunk of the five-day acclimation period, meaning he will not be able to go with full pads until Friday. Despite that limitation, Pinkel said Temple has performed well in his limited time with the team.
"He's just getting in there and competing," Pinkel said. "He's getting a lot of work done, but obviously he's restricted in some of the drills."
Tick tock: About a dozen players had to hustle to get to the practice field in time this morning, as the Tigers opened at 8:15 for the fourth consecutive day. Strength and conditioning coach Pat Ivey yelled out the time remaining to reach the field, and a handful just squeaked in under the gun.
Besides the nearly late start, Pinkel said he was pleased with the practice.
"It's not real wise to be late for practice; it doesn't happen," he said. "They got out here and I thought the coaches did a good job of getting them going...
"My coaches are not allowed to come into the staff meeting today when we watch this thing over again, and say, ‘My players, I couldn't get them going.' That's not acceptable. You gotta get them going. And they did a very good job to do it...
"I thought we got better as a football team today."
Catch of the day: Freshman WR William Franklin caught a short screen pass and used good downfield blocking to go 65 yards down the sideline for a touchdown in the 11-on-11 drill.
Hit of the day: Freshman TB Jimmy Jackson's legs tangled up with a defender's in the inside run drill, sending both players tumbling to the ground. Jackson then rolled into the legs of a defensive coach, sending him to the Memorial Stadium turf as well.
Quote of the day: "He adjusted to our program probably better than any junior college player I've ever been around. He just kind of thrived on the discipline and the attention to detail, where a lot of junior college players look at us like we're nuts." --Pinkel, on the rapid adjustment senior S Nino Williams made to the Missouri system last season.
Audibles: Freshman T Kyle Riggs has dressed in a red jersey and shorts the past few days, participating in some portions of practice, but mostly observing. Riggs could have been an important member of the depth of the offensive line this season, but his shoulder surgery looks like it will force a redshirt. ... Goldsmith and Jackson are both shifty little backs that are not as flashy as Temple, but could certainly produce down the road. ... The connection between the two Brads--junior QB Smith and sophomore WR Ekwerekwu--remains the best on the team, despite a Smith pass that clanked off Ekwerekwu's shoulder pads late in practice Thursday. ... The offense finally began to hold its own Thursday, beginning to match up well against a more experienced and athletic defense. Saturday's scrimmage should expose how much the offense has evolved in just a few days. ... Only 16 days until the massive Arkansas State fan contingent invades Memorial Stadium.
Looking ahead: The Tigers have their last crack at two-a-days Friday, with sessions scheduled for 8:15 in the morning and 3:45 in the afternoon. They will participate in their second scrimmage on Saturday afternoon.