COLUMBIA — The four of them spend most of practice at their headquarters next to the goalpost at the north end of Faurot Field. The only sounds they make are the initial loud thud of leather football meeting leather soccer shoe, followed by a softer thud of ball meeting the grass on the steep hill in the northwest corner of the stadium.
The games the kickers and punters play when they kick the ball into the hill differ, but the consequences of losing are always: The loser must jump the fence, climb the hill and retrieve the balls.
Bumps and Bruises
Wide receivers Gahn McGaffie and Jaleel Clark sported red jersey's Wednesday, indicating they were less than 100 percent. McGaffie is recovering from a hamstring injury while Clark's ailment was unclear.
Cornerback Robert Steeples was also limping and showing effects from a right ankle injury but did not have a red jersey.
- Linebacker Will Ebner put the day's biggest hit on T.J. Moe after Moe caught a pass near the right sideline. Ebner drove him out of bounds with a powerful tackle.
- The day's strangest play was an errant pass from James Franklin. Realizing he had no chance of catching it, tight end Michael Egnew batted it back toward the line of scrimmage directly into the hands of defensive tackle Dominique Hamilton. Hamilton caught it momentarily, until Franklin was able to strip the ball away.
- Kendial Lawrence broke the biggest run during the contact drills. The offensive line opened up a massive hole through the middle for him, and he dashed through virtually untouched.
- Franklin's best throw came on a roughly 25-yard corner route to Jerrell Jackson to the left sideline.
Coach Gary Pinkel spoke about both the punt and kick return situations after Wednesday's practice.
With defensive backs E.J. Gaines and Kip Edwards and receivers T.J. Moe and Jimmie Hunt taking punts, Pinkel fielded a question about whether he would prefer to have an offensive player in that role, the direction many NFL teams are going these days.
"That guy who played corner at Florida State, who just went in the Hall of Fame, he was a pretty good punt returner," Pinkel said, referring to Deion Sanders. Needless to say, he wasn't exactly buying into the theory.
He also said he expected to know more about who will replace Marcus Murphy as the primary kickoff returner.
"We’re looking at four or five different guys," he said. "After today, I’ll get the report on where we stand, and hopefully we’ll start to solidify that."
Tailbacks Henry Josey and Lawrence, along with receivers Hunt and Jackson, took kickoffs in practice Wednesday.
During Wednesday’s football practice, Trey Barrow didn’t climb the hill once. That’s probably the way it should be. The junior from Moberly is listed No. 1 on the depth chart at punter. He is expected to hold on to that spot once the season begins.
Barrow wasn’t always a punter. In high school, he was an all-state receiver at Moberly in addition to serving as the team’s placekicker and punter. He showed a glimpse of his old glory on Wednesday when he caught a short punt off the foot of freshman Andrew Baggett over his shoulder.
Some of the skills aren’t still there, though. Minutes earlier during warm ups, he clumsily dropped a pass from quarterback Corbin Berkstresser.
He came to Missouri as a placekicking prospect, but once Grant Ressel won the job before the 2009 season, the coaching staff felt Barrow would be more useful if he concentrated the majority of his efforts on punting. Now he faces the prospect of punting in front of 70,000 of his closest friends less than 40 miles from his hometown.
But the pressure, at least according to Barrow, isn’t a factor.
“I’ve been out there,” he said, referring to his one punt and one fake punt in game action last year. “It doesn’t bother me at all.”
The biggest thing coach Gary Pinkel is hoping for from Barrow is consistency. It’s something he stressed with Barrow’s predecessors Matt Grabner and Jake Harry. Missouri finished third in the Big 12 in net punting in 2010 with Grabner and in 2009 with Harry.
“I can go through Jake Harry and all these different guys that we’ve had and that’s what you need, the consistency,” Pinkel said. “That’s what we need from that position.”
It is difficult for some players to be consistent if they are both placekicking and punting. The motions are completely different. A placekicker kicks a ball off the ground and finishes by coming across his body with his leg, while a punter kicks a ball out of the air and is instructed not to come across his body at all.
“Some days you kick better at different things,” said Baggett, who also kicks and punts. “Some days I can hit punts really well, today I couldn’t, and I was chasing them up the hill.”
Barrow thinks that after years of practice, he has the ability to do both well.
“I think now I’ve drilled it enough that I have the two different swings down and they don’t interfere with each other,” he said.
Receivers coach Andy Hill, who is also responsible for working with the punters, compared punting to another sport that involved repeated swings.
“It’s like hitting a golf ball, you can’t not think about what you want to do,” Hill said. “Every single swing is different, but you want them to be as much the same as possible.”
Hill also said each punter has one or two things that they try to focus on each and every time they kick. For Barrow, that’s what’s called “molding” the ball. Molding is when the punter turns the ball so it’s laces are up after he receives the snap.
“When I focus on molding the ball, I have good drops and punts,” Barrow said.
When he doesn’t, you might just find him retrieving balls off of the hill.