COLUMBIA — Marcus Lucas' smile was as bright as the setting Missouri sun after the first day of Missouri's preseason football camp. Growing up in Liberty, Lucas dreamed of playing for the Tigers, and after practice on Thursday, he was officially a member of the team.
"I've been anticipating this day for I don't know how long," Lucas, a wide receiver, said. "I'm having so much fun. It's definitely a dream come true."
WOODLAND LEADS WAY: With a talented batch of receivers, Rolandis Woodland's starting job might seem tentative, but Woodland took part in every drill with the first-team offense. Woodland made up for a couple of dropped balls during early drills with some nice catches during seven-on-seven scrimmages.
JONES STARTS WELL: Michael Egnew might be the starting tight end in camp, but Andrew Jones came out of the gate strong. Always a big guy (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) Jones was as fast as the wide receivers getting off the line and saw a fair amount of first-team reps.
LOOKS FAMILIAR: Freshman tight end Eric Waters looked like a Martin Rucker clone on Thursday. The position might go three-deep by the time Missouri plays Illinois.
RECEIVER RICH: Linebacker and running back are currently the deepest positions on the team, but by the end of the season that honor might go to the wide receivers. There are questions after Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp, but even if problems arise, there is a group of seven wide receivers who look to be Big 12 ready. Marcus Lucas has a Danario Alexander effortlessness about him, but Jaleel Clark might be the freshman that makes the most noise. At 6-5, Clark could be a threat for the Tigers in the red zone in 2010.
BIG FOOT: It's hard to understand how remarkable placekicker Grant Ressel is until he is seen at field level. Sure, he is nearly automatic, but Ressel also punishes the ball with his foot. At points, Ressel kicks were the loudest noises on the field.
TALL ORDER: Freshman defensive back Daniel Easterly towers over his fellow DBs at 6-4. Combined with his speed, Easterly could be a wildcard for the Tigers' defense.
The practice wasn't anything out of the ordinary for the Tigers with stretching, positional drills and a bit of seven-on-seven. But for each team member the start of camp meant something different.
For quarterback James Franklin, it was the first chance to show what he gained after a summer of work. Offensive lineman Justin Britt's practice was his first with the added scrutiny of being a starter. For last year's starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert, it was another day to better understand his new wide receiver corps. And it was running back Derrick Washington's first day as a team captain.
Britt, a redshirt freshman, said the tough workouts much of the team took part in over the summer makes preseason camp easier to manage.
"Waking up at 6 a.m. — sometimes 5:30 — every morning works on your discipline," Britt said. "So these first couple days are about freshmen and getting back into the technique."
Lucas ran drills with the third and fourth wide receivers unit. A freshman, Lucas has a daunting depth chart to climb, but he said isn't concerned about rank.
"Today is about learning. You just sit back and absorb everything," Lucas said. "You get behind some of the great guys, and just try to take it all in."
Lucas admitted that he had some first-day jitters in practice, but believed that the summer workouts the Tigers went through helped significantly.
"Everyone's a little nervous playing college ball and transitioning from high school," Lucas said. "Summer workouts helped a lot. The whole team got stronger and faster and we are more mentally prepared."
Lucas said that meeting with a sports psychiatrist has helped the team get right "between the ears."
"We learned about positive self talk," Lucas said. "We think of positive affirmations for ourselves when we are out here and it definitely helps."
Positive thoughts is the motto of the Missouri team in 2010. Coach Gary Pinkel and his staff all wore shirts on Thursday that said "Think Right."
Washington was in a right thinking mood after practice, joking about losing weight in the spring and summer.
"I'm still here, you know," he said. "I lost eight, nine pounds. I feel a lot quicker, a lot faster. I have more energy, and I feel great about that."
Washington was named a team captain on Thursday, and he had advice for his younger teammates for how to approach preseason camp.
"We got after it all summer, and now we finally come out here and get to beat up on each other a little bit," Washington said with a grin. "If you can play, you're going to play — if you got it, you've got it."
One of the players that played his way into a starting position is Britt, who started camp No.1 on the depth chart. Britt said he has a new attitude for camp and the upcoming season.
"I feel more motivated. I have to defend my spot. Last year was about getting up to it, this year is about keeping it," Britt said. "I have the mentality to go out and be perfect."
Being a freshman starter on the offensive line has brought a newfound attention to Britt by the Missouri coaching staff. Britt said he isn't fazed being under the microscope. Rather, Britt said that the attention will make him a better player.
Like Britt, freshman quarterback James Franklin played his way into a job at an expedited pace. Franklin isn't going to overtake Blaine Gabbert as starting quarterback this year, though his friends in Texas keep telling him to do so, but the highly-recruited freshman did earn the No.2 job after an impressive performance in spring practices.
Franklin used the spring and summer to get ahead in learning the team's playbook, but also used the time to bulk up. Standing next to Gabbert, who's size has NFL scouts drooling, Franklin looked just as commanding, if only an inch or two shorter.
Franklin laughed about the comparison.
"Yeah. I came in at 222, 223 in the spring. Now I'm at 231," Franklin said. "They have a certain body fat percentage they want you to be at, so as long as I didn't come back as a body builder, I'll be OK."
Franklin was sharp for most of practice, though he did have a few errant deep passes in drills. Junior quarterback Jimmy Costello, who backed up Gabbert in 2009, was stellar. The battle for the No. 2 job could become interesting as camp progresses.
Franklin said he probably wouldn't be in a position to contend with Costello if not for graduating high school early and joining the team before spring practices.
Franklin said he was "shellshocked" in the spring, but after two semesters at Missouri, he's well-adjusted and able to focus on football.
Gabbert, who enters his second season as the starting quarterback, said that he's better prepared for this season after playing in 2009.
Gabbert has a new batch of wide receivers, Lucas among them. Gabbert called the group "awesome," and that the depth at the position was an asset to the team. Gabbert is also in the process of finding a new go-to guy for the 2010 season. In seven-on-seven drills, Jerrell Jackson auditioned well for the role. Gabbert found Jackson several times with low passes through traffic — passes that Jackson slid and caught below the hands of the coverage.
Gabbert said that Jackson was making his decisions easy.
"He's open. It would be stupid not to throw him the football."