COLUMBIA — For the first two seasons of redshirt freshman La’Roderick Thomas’ career at Missouri, he focused on preventing the quarterback from completing a pass.
Now it is his job to catch passes from Chase Daniel.
Thomas spent his redshirt and freshman seasons as a cornerback, but never saw playing time. Then when Missouri was preparing to face the Arkansas Razorbacks and running back Darren McFadden in the Cotton Bowl, Thomas was selected to imitate McFadden for the scout team. The Missouri coaches saw a player with good speed who could help the team elsewhere.
“You look at his hands, his quickness and his running after the catch,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said about why he thought Thomas could move to receiver.
Thomas, who played quarterback in high school, will make his debut at receiver at 1 p.m. Saturday in Missouri’s Black and Gold Game, which will be televised for the first time on ESPNU.
At the beginning of the spring, Thomas was third on the depth chart at the H-receiver behind All-American freshman Jeremy Maclin and freshman Forrest Shock.
Now he has moved up to second.
“I’ve definitely seen a lot of improvement from Day 1 until now,” Maclin said. “He still has a lot to learn though.”
Cornerbacks sometimes earn a reputation as receivers who could not catch, and Thomas had to improve in that area. Maclin and Daniel both noticed that Thomas improved his hands this spring.
Daniel also said that Thomas has improved in running after the catch.
“Once he has more experience, it will all start coming to him,” Maclin said.
Besides getting used to Daniel aiming for him, Thomas also had to adjust to the amount of running that wide receivers do. Pinkel said that receivers run more during a game than any other player.
“When he was a defensive back, he thought he ran a lot,” Pinkel said. “He had no clue until he got on offense. That’s been difficult for him, but he’s figured out the amount of energy needed.”
Since Maclin is ahead of Thomas in the depth charts, he has tried to help him adjust. Thomas will ask about different routes, how to run them and when to run them. Sophomore Danario Alexander has also given Thomas advice, because Alexander sat out most of the spring after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, giving him a chance to spend more time with Thomas.
“He’s excited about it and we’re excited about him,” Daniel said.
BLACK AND GOLD GAME: The game will be broken into four 12-minute quarters. The first half will feature the first team offense playing the second team defense and the first team defense playing the second team offense. The clock will also run more, making the quarters faster than normal.
“It’s nice for our young players who haven’t played a game to get in a game situation,” Pinkel said. “This is as close to a real game as you’re going to get. A lot of those guys who redshirt haven’t been in a game since high school.”
In the second half, the second team offense and defense will play each other, followed by the third team offense and defense.
COTTON BOWL RINGS: Pinkel showed off Missouri’s Cotton Bowl Champion rings at Thursday’s practice. The seniors, captains and representatives from each class helped design the ring, which is silver with diamonds on top in the shape of a football and has the words National Rank No. 4 on one side and Cotton Bowl Champ on the other. Last season’s seniors will receive their rings during halftime of the Black and Gold game.