COLUMBIA — Junior safety Del Howard didn't take it easy on sophomore receiver La'Roderick Thomas on Monday in the Missouri football team's morning practice session.
After Thomas hauled in a pass on a short hitch route, Howard flew in and delivered a punishing hit, putting Kemp on his back and igniting raucous cheers from both sides of the ball.
Monday was the one-week mark of fall practice for the Tigers, but after four practices in pads, hits like Howard's have been few and far between. Senior captain and All-American William Moore said until today's planned scrimmage, that's exactly how it's supposed to be.
"We're out here, and we know it's Mizzou vs. Mizzou, we ain't gonna kill our guys," Moore said. "We've gone all out in the past, hitting receivers when they can't protect themselves, and we've had guys get hurt in the past like that. That's how Jeremy Maclin got hurt his first year, and we don't want guys going out like that."
For the most part, Missouri has avoided injuries this fall that plagued them in the spring. Moore said the team has been lucky in that respect.
For Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, avoiding injuries comes down to the way he schedules fall practices.
"We analyze, and we know what our players can take and can't take," Pinkel said. "You very rarely have two-a-days in a row, I haven't done that since 19 ... well, I don't want to date myself, I don't want to go back that far, but we changed that a long time ago."
Drills and the way the team practices when the offense matches up with the defense is all set up to avoid the injuries that could spell doom for any team's season.
"We don't take players down," Pinkel said. "Occasionally we play the ball live, but rarely. We also have our guys always stay on their feet, and if we're going to chop or cut them, we'll announce that before any drill."
For players like quarterback Chase Daniel and receiver Jeremy Maclin, those words serve as comfort, but what about players like Moore and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who make a name for themselves by dishing out punishment?
"It kind of sucks a little bit," Weatherspoon said. "But we just keep reminding our guys that we'll be playing Illinois in a few days, and when that day comes, we won't have to hold back anything."
That is, unless a wide-eyed freshman crosses their path first. Weatherspoon delivered a signature hit on redshirt freshman receiver Brandon Gerau in an 11-on-11 drill late in practice after the Columbia native hauled in a screen pass and tried to head upfield.
"You see one of those new guys, you can't help but give them a nice welcome to the Big 12," Weatherspoon said. "We gotta get on 'em and knock them out, teach them what it's all about in this conference, what kind of team we are, and what we expect of them when they become our age."
Defenders aren't having all the fun, though.
Daniel juked out Howard after escaping into the defensive secondary during an 11-on-11 option drill on what would have almost surely been an 80-plus yard touchdown run, had coaches not whistled the play dead.
Freshman receiver Jerrell Jackson continued to make his case for playing time this season, completely flattening freshman defensive back Kip Edwards in a full contact drill in which defensive backs attempt to stop skill position players from crossing the goal line.
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Even with all the precautions, the Tigers haven't been completely free of injuries this fall. Here's a quick roundup:
COFFMAN HURT: In Monday's practice, Chase Coffman was noticeably favoring his right hand. The pinkie finger was broken in practice last week, and Coffman has had it heavily wrapped underneath his gloves in practice ever since. The senior tight end said he was running routes in practice late last week, and got it tangled up in a teammate's jersey.
"It hurts quite a bit," Coffman said, when asked how it felt when he tried to catch balls. "It's a little bit of a distraction, but I just need to get out there and get used to it in case it isn't better by the time season starts."
GARRETT AND WOLFERT SIT: Senior safety Justin Garrett and senior kicker Jeff Wolfert both donned red pullover jerseys Monday, citing soreness. Pinkel said Garrett was feeling discomfort in his neck.
BRIDGES BANGED UP: Senior defensive back Castine Bridges was also wearing a red jersey Monday morning, his second consecutive practice to sit out contact drills. Pinkel said he had a sore muscle in the side of his leg, and held out Bridges on Monday hoping he would be able to compete in today's scrimmage, set for 7:15 a.m.