Most important changes of 2004: #8

InsideMizzou continues its countdown of the 10 most important changes from last season to this year. No. 8 takes a look at the revamped special teams, which features a new, but familiar face fighting for placekicking duties.

Through two years, Alex Pettersen was 0-for-2.

Pettersen lost his job as Missouri's starting kicker twice to walk-on Mike Matheny, earning only negligible playing time in the process. Pettersen claimed the job out of camp in 2002, his true freshman year, but lost it after the season debut against Illinois, when he missed two field goals and one of four extra points he attempted.

That brief appearance earned him a redshirt, but the results were similar last season. Pettersen spent the entire season as Matheny's relief, attempting just one extra point, which he converted in the regular season finale against Iowa State.

With Matheny's departure, Pettersen, now a sophomore, looked to be the only viable option in the kicking game. The arrival of junior walk-on Joe Tantarelli, who received a scholarship offer from Temple but chose Missouri instead, opened up one of the most heated position battles of training camp. After fellow walk-ons Adam Crossett and Scott Russell fell by the wayside, Pettersen and Tantarelli became the focus of the coaching staff.

Coach Gary Pinkel has said Pettersen is the leader throughout camp, mostly by default, as neither player has been consistent enough to solidify himself as the go-to kicker. Both struggled mightily in the team's second scrimmage of the fall, combining to make just 18-of-30 field goals. Pettersen continues to be inconsistent on extra points, missing an attempt in each of the final two scrimmages.

Both kickers stepped up their play Thursday in the team's final scrimmage: Pettersen made 5-of-7 field goals and Tantarelli converted 6-of-7. The strong showing aside, it will be difficult for the coaching staff to identify who has been the most consistent.

Early in camp, Pettersen was slowed by a hamstring injury, which kept him out of many conditioning drills but forced him to sit out the kicking portion of practice just once. Pettersen said that the coaching staff has stressed accuracy within 40 yards as most important aspect for him.

"That's where you do most of the damage, where you make most of your points," Pettersen said.

The starting kicker will be determined this weekend, in anticipation of the release of the official depth chart Monday. Pettersen will likely retain his starting job, but may be in a situation similar to the one he faced his freshman season: if he struggles, a talented junior walk-on will be nipping at his heels for playing time.


Early in camp, all of the kickers said they wanted to grab both the placekicking and kick-off duties, but that apparently will not happen. Crossett has shown the most and most consistent leg on kick-offs and appears to be the only option for the Tigers at this point.

"Obviously, I want to do kickoffs," Crossett said. "I definitely want that job."

Despite four players battling for the two kicking spots, both Pettersen and Crossett said the relationship among the group, which spends all of practice together, mostly kicking the ball to one another on the sidelines, has remained strong.

"We're together all the time, so there's no animosity or anything like that," Crossett said. "You have to be around somebody, on two-a-days, for five hours at least, plus meetings. We do get along pretty well."

"I think, on the field between the lines, it's pretty serious," Pettersen said. "But once you get off, you're all teammates and you want each other to do good. It's pretty fun off the field."


After slipping to second behind sophomore Matt Hoenes on the pre-fall depth chart, senior P Brock Harvey returned to full health and has regained the top job.

The top candidate to replace special teams stand-out Marcus James is senior CB Shirdonya Mitchell, the team's fastest player. Mitchell has been the most consistent with the ball throughout practice, but the coaching staff could give opponents a different look with freshman TB Marcus Woods. Woods has not always caught the ball cleanly on punt, but he said he would be willing to contribute any way he can.

"I'll play anywhere: punt return, kick return, whatever," he said.

Check back tomorrow as our countdown continues with No. 7.

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