COLUMBIA — Sophomore wide receiver Jerrell Jackson earned a lot of playing time for a true freshman last year.
Wide Receivers coach Andy Hill said Saturday that it gives Jackson an advantage at fall practice.
"He's improved dramatically just playing a little bit last year, being involved in the game planning each week, all the stuff that we do to get ready to play," Hill said. "That's all helped him because now he kind of expects how to get ready to practice, how to get ready to help other players."
Jackson acknowledged that his 2008 playing experience has made camp different this time around.
"That really helped me. It slowed things up out here," he said. "Playing as a true freshman out here, it's fast. It helped me pick out defenses and slow the game down a little bit."
Jackson and redshirt freshman Rolandis Woodland are young receivers who coaches say are talented. But, like the rest of the wide receiver unit, they need to review fundamentals which should be habits by September, when the season starts.
Coach Gary Pinkel acknowledged the talent the team has lost but said players' current strengths and weaknesses are compared to their potential.
"We always tell players the expectations for you (the player)," Pinkel said. "And that applies to all the receivers. They don't have to be (Chase) Coffman, they don't have to be J-Mac. They've got to be as good as they can be."
Woodland said this camp was a little different now that his redshirt year is over, but said it's a little bit like spring practice.
"I'm still learning," Woodland said. "I've got to learn fast."
Former MU receiver Tommy Saunders was present Saturday, and sometimes he talked to players as they ran back after a drill. Both Woodland and Jackson said he's a huge asset at practice.
"Tommy Saunders is always getting on us, always," Woodland said. "He's been leading the guys, all the wide receivers, on the right path. He's like a guardian angel right there for the wide receivers. Every time you look back, if you need help, he's right there for us. He's just like a big brother."
Jackson said Saunders, who was known for his outstanding workout habits, set a strong example.
"Most of us will go up to him and ask questions," Jackson said. "You know last year, Tommy was a hard worker. Like today, I was getting tired. I had to ask Tommy Saunders, 'Man, how do you push yourself through this?' Feeding off him will help us. He told me, 'Just don't think about it, just push yourself. That's all you can do.'"
The receivers had plenty to think about Saturday morning. Hill and new Offensive Coordinator David Yost had them running routes while quarterbacks rotated, making passes. At one point Yost stood about 30 yards ahead of the quarterback, about the area where receivers might slow their sprint after a catch.
"The play has just begun!" Yost shouted as two receivers simultaneously ran past him.
Hill also chided the group for half-heartedly calling out mock defenses. He stopped the drill to show them how futile it would be in a game situation to get the quarterback's attention without yelling in front of a full stadium.
"When you're practicing, (you) overdo it. You want it to be kind of second nature when we start playing in a month. Nothing we did last year that we can't be better at," he said after practice.
Hill said young players in particular benefit from having instructions on details repeated.
"They've got enough things flying through their head," he said. "We keep harping on them about looking at what's going on, (so) they can kind of relax and hopefully get it."