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MU linebackers turning heads on first day in pads

Friday, August 8, 2008 | 3:58 p.m. CDT; updated 7:23 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon runs through a drill during practice early Friday morning. The Tigers practiced in full pads Friday for the first time since spring drills.

COLUMBIA — Fans and media surrounding the practice field could feel it. Everyone within earshot could certainly hear it.

Friday morning's practice marked the start of fullpad practices for the Tigers, and afterwards, Missouri's players and coaches were quick to acknowledge the unmistakable rise in intensity on Kadlec Athletic Fields.

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"You can definitely tell there's a sense of urgency out here, considering what could happen this season," said linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who is coming off an All-Big 12 season and recently graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. "We know that if we take care of business, the sky's the limit, so every guy out here is excited and looking forward to the next day."

After two days in shorts and helmets and two days in shoulder pads, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said the players on his side of the ball have been looking forward to today for quite some time.

"We've got a lot of guys out here that are physical, guys that love to get after it, and can't wait to strap those pads on," Eberflus said. "That's what they love to do, that's why they play the game."

Noticeably missing from the practice's more physical drills was senior linebacker and Columbia native Van Alexander, who is still rehabbing his knee after tearing his ACL during the spring.

"It's frustrating," Alexander said. "Especially on days like today. It was so competitive out there today, and I want to be out there so badly, I just hate not being able to do what I love to do."

Although the injuries have taken their toll on Tiger linebackers this offseason, Weatherspoon felt the need to defend his teammates and downplay the significance of the injuries.

"I've seen Van (Alexander) personally go through a lot," Weatherspoon said. "People always talk about how he's always hurt, but he's really only missed like six games since he's been here, really. I know he's gonna get in the training room, and so is Steve (Redmond) and our unit is going to be solid when it needs to be."

For Missouri's corps of linebackers, Friday was a day for them to set a tone, accepting a challenge posed to them by linebackers coach Dave Steckel.

"You read all the magazines and they're saying we're the second best unit in the Big 12," Weatherspoon said. "Coach came and told us that and said ‘Guys, we've got a lot of work to do,' so we know it's up to us to make sure that we're known as the best linebackers in the Big 12 once the season gets going."

Senior Brock Christopher proved Friday that Weatherspoon's words had plenty of bite behind their bark, providing one of the most highlight-reel worthy hits of the week.

After hauling in a screen pass, receiver Jared Perry cut across the middle of the field. Out of Perry's view, however, was Christopher, who shed his block and leveled the 180-pound junior, drawing cheers from the sidelines.

DANIEL ABSENT: Senior quarterback Chase Daniel was absent from practice Friday to attend a family funeral. Pinkel said the All-American planned to arrive back in Columbia on Friday night and be back on the practice field Saturday morning.

WASHINGTON CROSSES THE GOAL LINE: In one-on-one receiving drills, sophomore tailback Derrick Washington was doing his best to put some more distance between himself and senior Jimmy Jackson on the depth chart. Being tailed by linebackers on each, Washington took a pair of short receptions and turned them into touchdowns.

PERRY'S SNAG: Before he was flattened later in practice by Christopher, Perry hauled in a bomb down the right-hand sideline from reserve quarterback Chase Patton for a 60-yard score.

ANOTHER TIGHT END: It looks like Chase Coffman isn't the only tight end who could provide some flashy catches for the Tigers this season. Junior Jon Gissinger had one of the best grabs of the week, reaching up and stabbing a ball with one hand on a pass from Blaine Gabbert.

INJURY UPDATE: Danario Alexander, who Pinkel said won't be cleared to run until next week at the earliest, was seen at least once jogging across the practice field in flip-flops. Alexander is currently rehabbing a torn ACL suffered against Oklahoma last season, and a second surgery to repair new damage in June. He is not expected to return to the field until October at the earliest.

 


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