COLUMBIA — Tim Barnes isn’t used to being in this situation. Truth be told, neither is Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel, although he’s treating it like the Tigers’ open center competition is something he’s experienced several times.
“We never talk about it as anybody’s to lose,” Pinkel said. “Anybody can beat anybody out, we battle and it works.”
But for the first time since the 2004 season, Pinkel and the Tigers enter the spring without a returning starter at the center position after the graduation of Adam Spieker, who started all 50 games in his career at Missouri from 2004-2007. That moves Barnes, the only center on this year’s squad to play in 2007, into the projected top spot during the spring season, a stark change from last spring when he was the one trying to unseat the more experienced starter.
“My mentality is (that) it’s my job now,” Barnes, a redshirt sophomore, said. “It’s up to me to fill in his spot. I’ve just got to come in and do what I know I can do.”
But beneath Barnes’ confident outlook on the season is the constant reminder of Pinkel’s mantra that any and every position is up for grabs and will go to the player who performs the best. That and the presence of redshirt freshman J.T. Beasley behind him provide an easy motivation to never let his standards slip.
“J.T. Beasley does a good job behind me, and he’s always going to keep me on my toes,” Barnes said. “(He’ll) make sure I do my best with not only my snaps, but blocking-wise. The competition is always there. The coaches are always clear that everybody’s job is wide-open in the spring. What I try to do is work as hard as I can to make sure I can solidify my job and keep anyone from taking it.”
Besides the experience of playing last season, which Barnes says is a big advantage because he already knows about dealing with Big 12 referees, opponents and fans, his past experience of competing for this job last year could provide another advantage. From his time in Beasley’s situation last year, Barnes has a clear understanding of the mindset of someone trying to win a job as opposed to a player who has that job.
“Whenever you’re not starting, you have something to shoot for,” he said. “Now, you’re playing with a target on your back. The immediate goals (as a starter) are to hold your spot, instead of get a spot from someone else.”
If Barnes is successful at earning the spot, Pinkel’s history suggests that he will be there for a while. Despite his desire for competition at every position, Pinkel has only had two centers start for him in seven years at Missouri, Spieker and 2003 graduate A.J. Ricker. Like Spieker, Ricker started every game that he played under Pinkel.
For his part, Pinkel is sticking to his position that both Barnes and Beasley are competing for a spot and that neither has an inside track to get it.
“Right now, I think it’s as it is, and we’ll find out how it sorts out,” Pinkel said. “Both are doing a good job. We’ll see how it goes.”
OFFENSE OUTLASTS DEFENSE: After trailing for most of the day, the Missouri offense scored on the final play of the team’s intra-squad scrimmage to notch a 58-52 victory over the defense. The scrimmage was played under the scoring format used in the spring Black and Gold game, which rewards each side for positive plays rather than only for touchdowns and field goals.
The final score, a Chase Daniel touchdown pass to Jared Perry, came during a matchup of both sides’ first-string units that came about because Daniel asked Pinkel for it to decide the game.
“It was a fun way to end it,” Pinkel said. “Chase Daniel was begging me to go ones against ones to see who wins and loses. That competitiveness makes you better on both sides of the football.”
The touchdown was the second of the day for both players. Daniel finished with a line of 20-25 for 258 yards, while Chase Coffman topped the receivers with 101 yards on eight catches.
WEATHERSPOON BRUISED: Pinkel said that an X-ray of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon’s shoulder came back negative, and that the staff believes the injury is only a bruise. He added that Gilbert Moye, who is in the mix for the job at free safety, suffered a slight hamstring injury.
KICKING STRUGGLES: Throughout the morning, the Missouri kickers and punters struggled with multiple aspects of their kicks, which Pinkel said was one of several areas his team needed work on.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “The cohesiveness of the offense, the defense and the different kicking areas are not close to being at that level that they need to be. We’re making progress, but we’ve really got a long way to go.”