At the close of Monday’s practice, the kickers on the Missouri football team took turns blasting kickoffs from a tee to the other end of the indoor field at Devine Pavilion.
Some non-kickers decided they wanted a shot.
Missouri (3-0) at Nevada (0-2)
WHEN: 8 p.m CDT
WHERE: Mackay Stadium, Reno, Nev.
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
Junior cornerback Kevin Rutland and sophomore cornerback Trey Hobson wandered over to the kickers, soon followed by senior Carl Gettis and redshirt freshman Robert Steeples.
“Line it up,” one of them said, already in a prekick stance. The ball was kicked with force but bounced comically to the left, never rising more than 10 feet off the ground.
Hobson wanted a turn. His kick was straight and came close to reaching a respectable distance, but only after numerous bounces.
“Look at that squib, cuz!” Hobson said happily. “That was a squib! I meant to do that!”
Based on their performance last season, the Missouri cornerbacks have had plenty of work to do at their own jobs, containing receivers and preventing big plays. It was an aspect of the Tigers’ defense that hurt Missouri at times last year, and the corners said there has been improvement, with more to come.
However, they also said having fun is key to being comfortable and confident in game situations, especially after mistakes are made.
“The past couple years we were uptight, you know what I’m saying, real serious,” Hobson said. “You got to have fun out here, man. If you don’t have fun, there’s no way you’re going to be able to perform the way you want to.”
Rutland said enjoying the weekly routine doesn’t mean the job isn’t taken seriously.
“We’re kind of a relaxed group. But we also know that when it’s time to go to work, it’s time to go to work,” he said. “I think us being that close, we can hold each and every one of us accountable. It’s more than just letting someone down (if you fail), it’s kind of like letting your friend down as opposed to your teammate. Who’d want to let their friend down?”
The cornerbacks do not hesitate to acknowledge last year’s problems.
“We had a big chip on our shoulder coming from that,” Steeples said. “But the main thing is, we know that was last year and this is this year and we have a pretty solid unit, so we can just focus on making a name for ourself this year.”
Rutland said he wants to make sure everyone is aware of past mistakes.
“Nobody has forgotten last year, and I think we’re using that as a motivator,” he said. “If you keep last year in our hindsight, then there’s no way we’ll take a step back into that same phase. It’s not going to happen.”
Indeed, the entire defense has looked much better in 2009. Although the Big 12 Conference opener against Nebraska is two weeks away, opponents haven’t gashed Missouri for big plays as they did far too often in 2008.
“I think we just, maybe mentally, we’re a little bit tougher as a defense,” Gettis said. “If we break down or something happens, everybody gets back together real quick and just forgets about the last play.”
Rutland pointed out another example of improvement.
“I would say even last game (against Furman) … it was actually a sack by Andrew Gachkar, but it was all due to Trey Hobson’s defensive play,” Rutland said. “It was a time where the receiver ran a stop and go. Most of the time, us corners looking for that next interception … you bite on that and you get beat deep.
“But he was very mature, he came up on his guy, kept him in his vision, stayed deep. The quarterback had to pump and pump and pump, and then he was sacked. And that was an example of the coverage causing a sack. I think last year, that might not have happened.”
But Steeples warns there is a lot of room for growth.
“I mean we’re never satisfied,” he said. “We always, we feel we’ve got a lot to improve on, but right now we’re doing OK.”
Although the most points the Tiger defense has allowed in a game is 20, Rutland said the coaches are still finding mistakes.
“I can’t lie, we’re excited,” he said. “We’re happy, what we’re doing. But the thing is, and this what our coaches are constantly preaching to us, like Coach Steck (defensive coordinator Dave Steckel), is that we’re doing good now, but we can be so much better than we’re doing. From the outside looking in you might not see the mistakes we’re making because it may be overshadowed by a sack or something like that.
“But when things are going the way they’re going, we kind of can’t get too caught up in our success.”
Hobson said the cornerbacks aren’t worrried about conference play.
“We’ll be tested, but I have no doubt that we’ll be ready,” he said. “We’re just going to keep working hard, and I know we have the talent to do it.”