COLUMBIA — If Saturday's scrimmage was any indication, Missouri football fans are going to be seeing a lot of De'Vion Moore this season. And judging by what Moore did with the ball in his hands, that's a good thing.
Moore, a redshirt sophomore, got a significant number of opportunities yesterday while working with the first team offense. Moore, along with starting running back Derrick Washington, is part of a running back tandem that head coach Gary Pinkel calls the best in his tenure as head coach.
Washington is clearly the No. 1 option in the Tigers backfield coming into the season. His vision and excellent skills as a receiver make him a threat to become a dynamic player in the Big 12.
But while Washington provides the back with the elusive running style, Moore provides the power.
"If he's not the strongest running back on the team, then he's one of them," sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert said.
Moore exhibited that strength, and his ability as a short yardage back by delivering two touchdown runs from inside the five yard line with the first team offense Saturday.
Including the two scores, Moore had seven carries for 34 yards in all. But maybe more important is the comfort Moore has been showing in catching the ball, adding a 25-yard reception after catching a quick hitch, breaking a tackle and making his way up the right sideline.
"That's what our offense is," Moore said. "We run a spread offense. If you can't catch the ball, you won't be on the field."
"He's really gotten a lot better at it," offensive coordinator Dave Yost said of Moore's receiving ability. "I don't think it was a natural thing. Coming out of high school he was primarily an I-back tailback that ran the football and got down hill. It's something he's really worked on, and focused on, and you can see it now. He's very comfortable in what we're doing."
Moore says that he wasn't necessarily expecting a bigger workload coming into the season. Whether it's as a runner, pass receiver or blocker he's just hoping to be a contributor in the Tigers offense. And from the looks of things, along with Washington, he'll be getting plenty of opportunities to do exactly that.
"We count on those two guys," Yost said. "And we're probably going to use them more than we ever have. There's going to be times where they're both in the game together, because if you ranked our top eleven players on offense, they're close to it."
- Blaine Gabbert completed 17-22 passes Saturday, including a touchdown and one interception on a pass that was deflected off senior wide receiver Jared Perry's shoulder pad. Gabbert was effective and impressive throughout, but looked especially good during a two-minute drill segment where he went 5-6 and capped off the drive with an 18-yard touchdown run. The scramble was one of two long runs where Gabbert showed off his willingness and ability to take off, the other being a 30-yard scamper up the left sideline where Gabbert went through each of his reads before choosing to pull the ball down.
- While the rest of the quarterbacks wore orange jerseys yesterday, indicating that they can be hit a little more liberally than normal, Gabbert was in the much safer green jersey throughout. Gary Pinkel said that the move is a result of Gabbert's separation from the pack and the strong hold he has of the No. 1 quarterback slot. Pinkel praised Gabbert's progress, but said that he still has concerns about his tendency to hold onto the ball too long. "He wants to make that play every time, and that's what young quarterbacks do," Pinkel said. "But sometimes the best play is the incomplete."
- Sophomore wide receiver Wes Kemp made two of the highlight reel receptions during the scrimmage, including a leaping catch in traffic and a 35-yard gain on a screen, but Danario Alexander showed that despite his past inconsistencies catching the ball he is probably the No. 1 option in the Tigers passing game. The senior wideout had seven catches for 91 yards, and made a variety of different plays including a 26-yard reception on a swing pass that included several broken tackles and a touchdown grab in the back of the end zone.
- Including the two long screen plays, almost the entire receiving corps showed an urgency to make something happen after the catch. Whether it was Kemp, Jared Perry or Jerrell Jackson, nobody seemed satisfied with making a catch and hitting the turf. As long as that tendency doesn't come at the price of less ball security and more dropped passes that mindset may help add a lot of big plays for the Missouri offense.
- It's been a long ride in a relatively short time for freshman quarterback Blaine Dalton. After starting off his Tiger career with legal trouble and a spot near the bottom of the depth chart, Dalton got some reps with the No. 2 offense Saturday, and showed a lot of mobility within the pocket as well as an ability to make plays outside of it. Dalton made several strong throws after keeping plays alive with his legs.
- Sean Weatherspoon is best known as a tackling machine, but what helps to make him an All-American caliber player is his ability in coverage. Several times Weatherspoon was in man coverage on sophomore wide receiver Jerrell Jackson, and seemed to hold his own very well.
- The offensive coaching staff is doing its best to establish a role for Jackson within the first team offense. His explosiveness makes him an ideal candidate for the reverse and end around duty handled by Jeremy Maclin in the past, and that looks like the way the staff is trying to insert him into the offense.
- Sophomore tight end Beau Brinkley was the offensive standout among the players who are further down the depth chart. Working with the third team offense Brinkley had four catches for 64 yards including a one-handed grab of a deflected pass coming over the middle.
- When the second team defense is on the field it isn't much of a mystery who's making the tackle if the ball is run between the tackles, or run anywhere really. Sophomore linebacker Will Ebner is always all over the place, and it will be interesting to see if the Tigers can afford to keep him off the field.