COLUMBIA — There were examples on both ends of the spectrum. For a first-year starting quarterback, that has to be expected.
The first came in a 7-on-7 drill. Sophomore James Franklin dropped back and lofted a long pass down the left sideline to L’Damian Washington. Even though it was only practice, eyes around the field were fixed on the spiraling leather once it left Franklin’s hand. After what seemed like an hour, but was really only a few seconds, Washington dove forward and caught the pass. Loud cheers erupted from the offense. It was the kind of play that during the regular season might have resulted in six points. At the second practice of fall camp Friday, it was just a small triumph.
No Richardson again
Heralded defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was again absent from practice Friday, as the program waits to hear from the NCAA regarding his eligibility. No update was given on his status.
True freshman quarterback Corbin Berkstresser of Lee's Summit took a siginificant amount of reps with the second-team offense Friday, despite not even being listed on the depth chart for the position. Berkstresser showed he has the ability to compete with Ashton Glaser and Jimmy Costello for the right to backup James Franklin.
With last season's kick returner Marcus Murphy out for the season, there has been much speculation about who will fill that role.
Thursday's practice saw Kip Edwards, T.J. Moe, Gahn McGaffie and Jimmie Hunt returning punts. All four also caught punts Friday, with the addition of E.J. Gaines.
The other example came during the 11-on-11, non-contact scrimmage. Dropping back to throw a screen pass, Franklin’s toss instead found the waiting arms of defensive tackle Dominique Hamilton, who jogged the other way and gave Franklin a friendly stiff-arm to the facemask on his way by. In a regular season game, it would have been six points for the wrong team. Friday, it was just a bump in the road.
The reality is that Franklin is still developing, that his chemistry with his receivers is still in the early stages and that, for this Missouri football team to fulfill its potential, he will need to avoid throwing interceptions to defensive lineman.
“I’ve always said you can throw for 375 yards and four touchdowns, but if you throw two interceptions, it’s not very good,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “The critical errors, those are the plays that are going to hurt your football team.”
The factor that is going to most help Franklin mesh well with the rest of the offense is the experience that surrounds him. Every single player that caught a pass in 2010 is back on the roster for 2011.
“It was good for him to have a year just to sit and hang out,” wide receiver T.J. Moe said. “He saw … how we read the defense, and how we do things.”
The experience in practice, though, is what Moe thinks will cement the relationship between the man who throws the ball and the men responsible for catching it.
“It’s all about repetitions,” he said. “I’m going to a run a 10-yard out five different ways and he’s got to know the five different ways. It’s all about timing, no matter what the defense is, we’ve got to be able to complete the pass every time.”
Franklin said that through the summer he and the receivers threw at least four times a week, twice in 7-on-7 workouts and twice on their own, but that things change when players get to camp.
“We built up a lot of chemistry that way,” Franklin said. “Now what we have to do is build it when it’s here and involving the coaches.”
Things are not perfect yet, nor does anyone expect them to be. There are times when Franklin throws to the wrong place or leads a receiver too much. The receivers themselves understand his challenge, though, and are doing their best to get their new leader up to speed. After a series in practice, Franklin and the receivers will review what went wrong, what went right and why.
“We’ll get with James, ask him what he saw and tell him what we saw,” wide receiver Wes Kemp said. “We just try to be perfect for James and make it a more comfortable transition. He’s doing great and he’s become a leader of the offense.”
As they walked off to the locker room Friday, offensive tackle Elvis Fisher and Franklin joked about the Hamilton interception. Franklin seems to have the ability to shake off mistakes, something Pinkel says is important in a quarterback.
“Last year, he’d come into games and everybody would be cheering.” Pinkel said. “Everybody in the stands’ favorite player is the backup quarterback, but guess what? He’s not the backup anymore.”
One thing is for sure. No one will be joking about interceptions-turned-touchdowns once the games start to matter on Sept. 3.
“The coaches have prepared me for it,” Franklin said. “I’ll be ready by the time (the opener) comes.”