COLUMBIA - Blaine Gabbert waited 180 days to take the practice field Monday after signing with the Missouri football team back on Feb. 6.
For Gabbert, that was about 180 too many.
"It's just so great to finally be out here," Gabbert said Tuesday. "I've been up here since June 1 doing some voluntary workouts and stuff with some of the quarterbacks and receivers, but it's nice to finally be out here with all the coaches and the rest of the guys on the team."
The 6-foot-5 quarterback, out of Parkway West High School in Ballwin, was the most heralded recruit from coach Gary Pinkel's 2008 class, almost unanimously considered the best prospect in the state of Missouri. Gabbert is considered one of the nation's elite quarterbacks entering college this fall, especially after being named camp MVP of the Elite 11 Quarterback Camp in 2007, the same camp whose alumni includes Drew Brees, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and MU's Chase Daniel and Chase Patton. After committing to Nebraska in May 2007, Gabbert reneged, and told Pinkel five months later he would be making the trip down I-70 to Columbia in the fall.
Now that practice has begun, Pinkel says he is already impressed with what he has seen from the freshman.
"He's clearly got the skills," Pinkel said. "The challenge for him is going to be learning the mental aspect of the game, the system and all the other little mental things quarterbacks need to have."
In practice Tuesday, Gabbert's accuracy was at times spotty, but that's something he says he isn't too worried about.
"There's definitely still a little bit of nerves going on," Gabbert said. "I just need to improve and keep all those negative things out of my head."
Of course, rooming with Heisman candidate and reigning Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year Chase Daniel could go a long way in helping that improvement arrive quite a bit sooner.
"I look at him like he's my little brother out here," Daniel said. "He's been rooming with me since the start of summer, and I'm going to put a lot of my time and effort into him, but it's up to him to take it to the next level."
Just two days into fall practice, Daniel is echoing Pinkel's praise.
"If you just walked out here and watched practice, you wouldn't know he was just a freshman out here for the first time, and a lot of that is due to how hard he's worked over the summer," Daniel said. "Now, all he's got left to do is get used to the speed of practice and learn how to be a Division I quarterback."
Gabbert said doing that doesn't have much to do with what he does on the practice field, but rather, what he can do off it.
"If you're a quarterback at this level, just about everybody has the physical skills," Gabbert said. "The thing that sets the great ones apart is the mental aspect of the game. I think if I can know the system and be smarter than the guy starting across from me, good things are going to happen."
n Senior linebacker Van Alexander was on the practice field again Tuesday, still donning a red jersey and noticeably limping for much of practice. Pinkel said Alexander has been cleared to practice full speed and will suit up when the team begins practice in full pads later this week.
Alexander tore his ACL during spring practice on April 8 and had surgery to repair the damage on April 14.