COLUMBIA — It wasn't Brian Coulter's fault.
He could have done everything short of unseating Chase Daniel as Missouri's starting quarterback, and he still wouldn't have lived up to the hype.
- If the deep out is the hardest throw in football, one would never know it watching Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert delivered several strikes on the route during 1-on-1 passing drills Friday, including a perfectly thrown ball to sophomore Wes Kemp, who had a defensive back draped all over him.
- Senior safety Hardy Ricks always seems to be around the football. Already with several pass deflections and a couple forced fumbles this week, Ricks again managed to strip Danario Alexander during 1-on-1 passing drills.
- Sophomore right tackle Dan Hoch seems to be struggling with consistency. During the first matchup of 1-on-1 pass rush drills, Hoch looked incredibly comfortable getting into his pass set and made handling Brian Coulter look easy. The next time around, however, Coulter beat Hoch to the outside with a quick club to his outside arm. The good news for Missouri fans is that at times, Hoch looks fluid and effortless as a pass blocker.
- Senior wide receiver Jared Perry showed an impressive burst during a two-minute drill today. On 4th-and-3 during the simulated session, Perry caught a quick out near the sideline, accelerated upfield, cut back inside the pursuing safety and outran everyone to the end zone.
- During a full team session near the end of practice, Gabbert showed an obvious rapport that he has developed with sophomore tight end Andrew Jones over the course of the season. After being flushed out of the pocket and keeping the play alive by rolling to his right, Gabbert found an open Jones who had settled into a void in the defense. Gabbert feels that Jones can be the same type of security blanket that Chase Coffman provided Chase Daniel last season. "There's a reliability factor," Gabbert said. "I know that he's going to be open sitting in those holes, and I've got a lot of trust in him."
A blue-chip recruit out of high school, the senior defensive end was forced to attend Pearl River Community College for academic reasons, and after failing to qualify academically at Florida State eventually chose Missouri as his college football destination before last season.
Discussion board pandemonium ensued. For Missouri fans, somehow Brian Coulter was more than a quiet man with a past full of almost unfathomable hardship: his father's murder by his mother, an education ignored, foster home life away from the siblings for which he had been responsible. He was the "Coultergeist," a mythical sack master sent to haunt the rest of the Big 12.
"I had a lot of hype coming out of high school, and coming out of junior college, being rated the No. 2 defensive end in the country," Coulter said. "But by me not knowing a lot about Missouri, I didn't expect for it to be like it was when I touched down here. Reporters were telling me about all these blogs and Web sites writing about me, and it really shocked me."
The Coulter-mania that was circulating among fans made it that much more disappointing when Coulter stumbled through fall camp and slid down the depth chart.
"It was highly frustrating," Coulter said. "Especially me, personally, I set a lot of high goals for myself. I put a lot of pressure on myself to go out there and perform well. I want to make every play.
"I just felt like nothing was going right for me. There was a point where I really questioned myself and wondered if this was really for me."
A week into fall practice this year, those questions couldn't be further from Coulter's mind. After a year to get comfortable with his teammates, coaches and the team's defensive system, Coulter has positioned himself in the starting rotation at defensive end and says he feels like he has developed into a completely different player.
When Coulter arrived before last season, the hype wasn't the only thing that gave him a shock. A player who prides himself on high energy and a relentless desire to make plays, Coulter found himself slowed by a lack of confidence in his knowledge of Missouri's defensive scheme.
The mental burden led to a series of lapses in Coulter's judgment when he did make it onto the field. Personal fouls against Oklahoma State and Texas only compounded the frustration that Coulter had faced during the preseason.
Coulter now says that his familiarity with the scheme is finally where it needs to be for him to return to a high level.
"Learning the system was the biggest thing," Coulter said. "Being here, knowing the system, building a relationship with the players and coaches, just being comfortable to be able to do what you've been doing for years."
Early on, those relationships were almost non-existent. After missing a majority of pre-season workouts, Coulter didn't have many connections with his teammates. Coulter says that he and senior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon bonded early on, but when Coulter would split off to work with the defensive line he lacked friendships among the group.
Being a part of off-season training this season, Coulter's feelings of exclusion have dissipated and been replaced with a strong sense of belonging.
"Having to push each other through the long days of running the stadium and doing sprints and everything this year, it makes you kinda feel part of the team, and it makes you feel good about yourself," Coulter said.
"It just makes practice a whole lot better. You look forward to coming out here in the morning and actually having fun. Last year during two-a-days, I dreaded them. This year I kind of look forward to coming out here and running around and playing football."
The enhanced relationships that Coulter has formed with his teammates are especially strong among the rotation of Missouri's top three ends, which also includes sophomore Jacquies Smith and redshirt freshman Aldon Smith. The three have all split time with the first team during the first week of practices, and while the rotation occasionally leaves Coulter out of the starting 11, he wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's not like a competition thing as far as being worried about who's gonna be the main two starters going in the game," Coulter said. "We're all like brothers; we just come out here and have fun and motivate each other."
Coulter says that when the other two ends are working with the first unit, he's busy studying their actions so he can be ready to offer his criticisms and his praise when they return to the sideline, something Coulter never would have considered last season.
Taking on a starting role has completely changed the way he approaches the game, Coulter says. Rather than focusing solely on his own development and grasp of the defense, he has made it a priority to provide an example for the players who are in the position he found himself in a year ago.
"Now that you're up in that starting role you've got a lot of other players looking up to you," Coulter said. "So even though I'm not a team captain, I've got to go out and perform well because I've got someone behind me, maybe second or third string that's watching me to see how I'm practicing. If I'm out there and going half speed, maybe they start feeding off that.
"Last year I was kinda stuck on me a little bit, and kinda stuck in self-pity. I got over that hump, and I'm a new person."