COLUMBIA — In preseason practices, the offense and defense compete in scrimmages to wear the black jerseys. But more and more Tigers are wearing a less-coveted jersey as preseason camp progresses.
On Friday, seven players wore the red jerseys of an injured player, keeping them off the practice field and making injuries an unwanted distraction at Devine Pavilion 13 days before the Tigers' Sept. 4 game against Illinois.
The injuries have hit in the wide receiver position the hardest. Jerrell Jackson, the team's top receiver coming into 2010, broke a bone in his wrist on Aug. 11. The injury required surgery to insert a screw into the scaphoid bone, and the Houston native will likely be out for the majority of Missouri's nonconference schedule.
Two of Jackson's backups in his slot wide receiver position, redshirt freshman Kerwin Sticker and true freshman Jimmie Hunt, also wore red jerseys on Friday.
Missouri started practices this summer with bevy of young, talented, but ultimately untested wide receivers. But injuries to three of the four slot wide receivers is forcing competition and giving freshman an opportunity to earn playing time.
Since the injury to Jackson, freshman wide receiver Bud Sasser has impressed at both the outside and slot wide receiver positions, and redshirt freshman receiver L'Damian Washington has supplanted Rolandis Woodland as the Tigers' primary big-play receiver.
"There's a lot of competition. What they're trying to do, they're trying to work through this and fight through this whole thing," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.
Now, Pinkel would certainly prefer to not have the injuries to talented players, but he sees the upside to the predicament.
"Can you raise yourself above where (you're) one of the top-three (you're) one of the top-six, to get yourself in at two-deep (on the depth chart)," Pinkel said. "That competition is really good. We have two freshmen (Sasser and Washington) who are doing really well, and we'll see how that comes out."
Another position of depth for the Tigers has been hit hard by injuries as well. The Tigers started the preseason with five ready-to-start linebackers, but a season-ending knee injury to outside linebacker Donovan Bonner and a pesky hamstring injury to middle linebacker Will Ebner has stretched the linebacking core thin.
While the Tigers' wide receivers have more opportunities to play, the linebackers are struggling to fill the voids left by Bonner and Ebner.
"We need Ebner back," Pinkel said. "He's an emotional leader. He's a guy who makes hits, creates plays. All the things that he creates out there—that cranks up enthusiasm."
But football is a violent game, and injuries are as much a part of a season as touchdowns and turnovers. Pinkel refuses to compare the injuries in 2010 to any other season he's been in charge at Missouri.
"Honestly, one thing I have never, ever done is get caught up in injuries," Pinkel said. "I just don't do it.
"Nobody cares. Bottom line, they're not going to asterisk a game or season."
"'Well, if Blaine wouldn't have gotten hurt last year, we could have won two more games,'" Pinkel said sarcastically. "Bottom line, you got to play through it. No excuses."