COLUMBIA — There are a certain few unmistakable sounds that provide the soundtrack to every Missouri football practice - the clack of shoulder pads, the bullhorn-toting assistant barking out the score of each competitive drill, the air horn announcing the end of each segment.
But there's nothing like the voices.
There are two voices that always seem to carry throughout the Memorial Stadium bleachers and off the Daniel Devine Pavilion walls. They're impossible to miss. Sean Weatherspoon and Jaron Baston aren't known for holding back.
The two senior defensive captains are constantly in somebody's ear. Whether it's a friendly barb to a player across the line of scrimmage or an echoing display of emotion following a big play, their energy is constant. During Thursday morning's scrimmage, it was infectious.
After losing Saturday's scrimmage by a score of 54-31 the defense bounced back to defeat the offense 34-20, and at times looked dominant.
"I think we were more focused," Weatherspoon said. "I came out just like it was game day, and that's what the defensive unit did. Guys had their iPods in. Guys weren't playing around. We were just getting focused. And you could kind of see the defense was ready."
The No. 2 defense held the first string offense to a three-and-out on its second series that included redshirt freshman linebacker Zaviar Gooden dropping Derrick Washington for a seven-yard loss, and redshirt freshman Brad Madison sacking Blaine Gabbert on third and long.
There were a couple lapses on the defensive side over the course of the scrimmage, including redshirt freshman receiver Rolandis Woodland getting behind Carl Gettis for a 29-yard touchdown reception from Jimmy Costello, but eventually the defense cemented the win by ending as strongly as it started.
During the two-minute drill section at the end of the scrimmage redshirt freshman cornerback Robert Steeples broke up a Jimmy Costello pass on first down, and wasn't done. Two plays later Steeples jumped in front of Costello's intended receiver along the left sideline and hauled in an interception before sliding onto the Faurot Field turf.
Baston said that the coaching staff challenged the defense after last Saturday's scrimmage, and that he's hoping their response and the attitude that starts with him and Weatherspoon carry on.
"Me and 'Spoon wanted to bring our personalities to this defense," Baston said. "And that's to have fun, be loose, but be focused at the same time. I think some of the younger guys and the role players are starting to pick up on that. Some of these guys are starting to make great plays and they're having fun while they're doing it."
- Blaine Gabbert was 14-21 for 121 yards and a touchdown Thursday, but looked far less comfortable than he did during last Saturday's scrimmage. Part of the problem may be that Gabbert was pressured with much more regularity. With right tackle Dan Hoch on the sideline with a sprained knee Kurtis Gregory slid out to right tackle while J.T. Beasley moved up from the second team at right guard. Whether or not the position shifts were to blame, there were times where the line looked out of sync and the passing game suffered. Gabbert was sacked three times and hurried several more times over the course of the scrimmage.
- Gabbert went deep a few times on Thursday, and while it sure looks pretty when he does (60 yards of perfect spiral with minimal effort), it wasn't particularly effective. Gabbert's deep ball up the right sideline intended for Rolandis Woodland early on was well defended, and later on Gabbert overthrew Jared Perry by less than a step on a play action pass that, if completed, would've gone for a touchdown.
- The promise surrounding MU's newest defensive ends may revolve around their ability to rush the passer, but Brian Coulter and Aldon Smith showed off solid instincts in several other areas Thursday. Both made plays behind the line of scrimmage while pursuing runs from the back side, and the entire defensive line looked adept at recognizing screen plays as they developed. The biggest issue with the run defense from the defensive end position seems to be a tendency to collapse too quickly off the edge and resulting in big running lanes off tackle. The ability to balance the integrity of defensive positioning with aggressiveness in getting to the quarterback is something that should come as Smith and fellow newcomer Jacquies Smith gain more experience.
- Jerrell Jackson's six catches for 60 yards is a particularly appropriate stat. It seems like every time Jackson makes a catch he's turning it into double digit yardage, and it's not because of the depth of his routes. Almost every catch Jackson makes is at or near the line of scrimmage and requires him to get up field following the reception. Jackson isn't making game-breaking types of plays, but each time he is called upon he's consistently getting positive results.
- If Jackson's line is indicative of his performance, freshman running back Kendial Lawrence's is not. Lawrence finished with -4 yards rushing on three carries, but 2 of those yards were part of one of the best 2-yard runs anyone will ever see in a fall scrimmage. After taking the handoff and moving right Lawrence evaded a tackler in the backfield, made an impressive cut back to the middle of the field and dove forward for a two yard gain. Lawrence continues to make something happen whenever he gets an opportunity. While working against the first team defense Lawrence took a Jimmy Costello handoff and knifed through defenders for a gain of 20 yards (the play was called back because of a hold, but to no fault of Lawrence).
- Sean Weatherspoon was kicking himself after the scrimmage when reminded of a missed opportunity on an interception that probably would've resulted in a touchdown. While working against the No. 2 defense Weatherspoon jumped in front of Rolandis Woodland and looked to have secured a Blaine Dalton pass and to be headed the other way with it, but Woodland managed to get his hand on the ball and pry it loose before Weatherspoon secured the catch. The play jarred memories of early last season when Weatherspoon was frequently turning turnovers into points for the Tiger defense.