As we all know, the 2009 Mizzou football team is a very young bunch. Experience has been a big question mark hovering over this team entering the season, so getting a lot of key, young players reps will be an important part of this year.
Unexpectedly, the Tigers had a constant rotation at nearly every position during their opener against Illinois on Sunday. Head coach Gary Pinkel told the media that we should expect more of this throughout the season.
"Well what we do on our whole football team, other than the quarterback, if you prove that you are going to play, you are going to play," coach Pinkel said in his weekly press conference on Monday. "You don't have to be a starter." Pinkel knows the value of getting as many players as possible in-game experience no matter what class they are. He has done it in the past and said he believes it makes his whole football team better.
"I think that's why a lot of times you see some of our younger players, like last year Jerrell Jackson for example, now look comfortable playing because of their experience a year ago," Pinkel said. "Although they didn't catch 35 balls each by any means, the experience of playing, there is no way to duplicate that. Hopefully we can get some more of that."
The head coach cited one example of freshman third string running back Kendial Lawrence getting work in the game against Illinois as proof that the coaching staff's philosophy is already paying off. Lawrence will be the back up against Bowling Green due to an ankle injury to DeVion Moore.
"His comfort zone is just a little bit better now because he's been in the arena a little bit," Pinkel said.
Depth is key with any team, especially with a relatively inexperienced one. The unexpected chance to get some back ups in that didn't see the field in the first half rotation was a pleasant surprise to the coaching staff.
"It was really nice to get a lot of players work," Pinkel said. "When a player gets in the arena, when he gets in the battle, when he gets in front of 60,000 people on national TV against a team of that caliber, you can't prepare them for that. "
Other press conference notes:
• The only two injuries were DeVion Moore and Jerrell Harrison. Pinkel said that Moore was doubtful for the game, but seemed a little more optimistic about Harrison. I wouldn't expect him to play this week, but Harrison is a lot closer than he was a week ago.
• The "scorpion" formation that features Aldon Smith coming in at defensive tackle was used only in the dime package last week, but that could change on a weekly basis.
• This season, an extra cornerback (mainly Robert Steeples on Saturday) will come in on the nickel defense rather than a safety like last season.
• Dan Hoch didn't come out of the Illinois game with an injury like many suspected. Instead, the coaching staff thought it would be a good idea to give him a couple of drives off in order to insure he was fresh.
• Pinkel was impressed with Gabbert's smarts in his first game as a starter. He said he got rid of the ball sometimes when he felt pressure, but Pinkel saw that he held on to the ball a little to long sometimes.
• The head coach was weary about this week's game against Bowling Green because of the history of upsets by team in the MAC Conference. He assured that the Tigers would not get too comfortable with their blowout win.
• Pinkel believes the team's ability to get off the field on 3rd down was a key to their sound victory on Saturday. The Illini went 6-16 (37%) on third downs in the Mizzou win.
• Gabbert's rushing ability was on display against Illinois, but Pinkel wants him to be smarter when taking hits while running.