COLUMBIA — Just off the Kadlec Athletic Fields behind the Mizzou Athletic Training Complex there is a constant reminder at how soon it really is. Written on the back of a black trailer in gold type, the first line of text is finally starting to come into focus for the Missouri football team: "Sept. 5th Illinois @STL."
Eleven days before the Tigers step onto the Edward Jones Dome turf, they stepped onto the practice field for the first time since school began, and the difference was evident.
Several new walk-ons were present because NCAA rules say the Tigers were allowed only 105 players at practice before classes begin. The practice's 3:30 p.m. start time signified the commencement of the in-season practice schedule. And finally, there was the urgency.
Coaches screamed. Players trash-talked. The Illini are coming. And it's obvious.
It was impossible to pick out a single coach that could be heard above the rest. Each was a bit quicker to let a player hear about a lapse of judgment or mental error. During the 11-on-11 session at the end of practice, the jumble of voices was constant before, during and after each play.
"We had a purpose out here," offensive coordinator David Yost said. "We wanted to have great enthusiasm, and we wanted to crank it up from the get-go."
"It was a focus of the staff in talking to the older players," Yost said. "This is what it should be like. You can still practice with great intensity. Just because you have school, that doesn't mean it changes."
* The vocal nature of the Missouri defense has been noted over and over, but Derrick Washington is doing his best to see that the offense does not lose any competition of enthusiasm. Whenever the No. 1 offense is on the sideline, the junior running back can be seen pacing back and forth, helmet in hand, starting chants and leading celebrations. With a sophomore quarterback who's got enough to worry about without the challenges of being the unit's vocal leader, Washington's energy can only be a good thing.
* In a separate instance of offensive leadership, sophomore Wes Kemp was quick to help some of the new walk-ons with the details of wide receiver drills during Tuesday's practice. Offensive coordinator David Yost noted after practice that a willingness to be vocal often comes with confidence, and Kemp has accumulated plenty. Throughout camp Kemp has shown great hands, an ability to attack the ball while it's in the air and a knack for getting separation from defenders. The sophomore may be the youngest of the receivers on the No. 1 offense, but he might end up being the biggest surprise.
* During the last play of a competitive running drill, Blaine Gabbert took the ball around the left end untouched to seal the victory for the offense. With how physically gifted Gabbert is as a passer, it's easy to overlook how impressive his straight-line speed is. His 40-yard dash time in high school has been documented as being faster than 4.6, and that doesn't seem like a stretch after seeing him in the open field.
* Co-offensive line coach Bruce Walker got all over the No. 1 offensive line when they fell behind the No. 1 defensive line 7-0 in individual pass rush drills. During the stretch, Aldon Smith beat Kurtis Gregory with a quick inside move, and Jacquies Smith got by Elvis Fisher with a great spin move. The tongue-lashing from Walker seemed to work, however, and the offense won the next three individual matchups.
* After dropping a perfectly thrown, would-be touchdown from Gabbert in seven-on-seven drills, Danario Alexander made up for it during 11-on-11 drills at the end of practice. The senior wideout caught three touchdowns during the session and looked fluid and comfortable catching every ball thrown his way. Alexander occasionally has issues catching the ball during drill work, but when the heat is on and Gabbert is dealing with a live pass rush, Alexander seems to be the one he continues to look for, and find, in the red zone.
* Two collisions highlighted the final session of practice Tuesday. After yet another impressive run by freshman running back Kendial Lawrence, he was dropped in the open field by junior college transfer safety Jarell Harrison. But it wasn't long before the offense got its revenge. While taking the ball around left end, redshirt freshman running back Jared Culver trucked a defender standing in his way up the left sideline, much to the delight of his teammates. Kemp, Washington and De'Vion Moore all hopped out from the crowd to voice their approval.