COLUMBIA— Jimmie Hunt is starting to realize that Andy Hill doesn't miss much.
Run four steps on a five-step route, and the receivers coach will bark. Let your elbows protrude while running, and he will point it out. Miss a block down field, far from where the play develops, and you're in trouble.
Head coach Gary Pinkel said the team took things a little easier Friday in anticipation of the season's first scrimmage at 8 a.m Saturday on Faurot Field.
"We practiced lighter today because we're going to have a huge scrimmage tomorrow," he said. "It's a real important scrimmage for everybody ... It carries a lot of weight. Going up and down the depth chart is about who is playing and improving his best."
- Jerrell Jackson (hamstring) joined fellow receivers Gahn McGaffie (hamstring), Jaleel Clark (bruised shoulder) and Eric Waters (turf toe) on the day-to-day list.
- Practice started on Faurot Field but was moved indoors an hour later because of moderate rain and some lightning.
- Sheldon Richardson participated in 11-on-11 drills and looked as good as advertised in one-on-one situations. At one point, he literally threw center Travis Ruth aside to get to the tackling dummy.
- Andy Hill wasn't happy with the effort of the receivers, but they had their moments. Marcus Lucas had two long catches, one down each sideline, one pass coming from sophomore Ashton Glaser and another from Corbin Berkstresser. The freshman quarterback also hit Jimmie Hunt down the left sideline for a touchdown during one-on-one coverage.
- Kendial Lawrence made the most impressive run of the day on a last-second dish from James Franklin. Under pressure, Franklin lobbed a pass to Lawrence over the offensive line. Lawrence made one cut and exploded up the middle. It might have gone for a long touchdown in a game.
Hunt and two other second-year receivers, Marcus Lucas and Bud Sasser, have adjusted to the scrutiny. In fact, they're trying to get Hill to notice them as much as possible.
They came to Columbia as one of the Missouri football team's most promising classes of receivers yet. But the Tigers return every single player that caught a pass last season, so the new players' potential alone isn't enough to get them on the field.
They didn't do much else to help their cause this spring. Sasser and Hunt, redshirt freshmen, were listed third and fourth at the inside receiver slot behind T.J. Moe and Gahn McGaffie entering fall camp. Lucas, who did not redshirt last year but caught three passes for 23 yards all season, was listed third on the outside behind Wes Kemp and Brandon Gerau.
Entering the first preseason scrimmage Saturday morning, the trio has improved. Hill might not be the first to admit it, but other coaches are noticing, too.
"Marcus, Bud and Jimmie look like different guys," offensive coordinator David Yost said. "You see those guys taking a big step forward from the spring."
They have been given an opportunity. Receivers McGaffie and Jaleel Clark as well as tight end Eric Waters have been nursing injuries. Then during Friday's practice, starter Jerrell Jackson pulled his right hamstring. He won't play in the scrimmage Saturday.
With the coaches moving all three players around the different slots, now is their best chance to earn playing time.
"Those are the guys that are slowly starting to shine a little bit," head coach Gary Pinkel said. "Having those veteran receivers out in some respects help us a little bit because it allows those guys to see if they can do it (now). There's going to be a time when ... we have to draw the line in the sand here."
Missouri has become a destination school for receivers because of how much the team throws the ball. Some receivers, such as Jeremy Maclin and tight end Martin Rucker, have moved on to the NFL. High school recruits with big goals want to play for the Tigers.
"Missouri's a receiver's dream, really," Lucas said. "Any receiver should think, 'That's a place I see myself progressing.' We take a lot of pride in it."
Once there, though, the players must work much harder to emerge from the deep pool of options. Especially playing for Hill, who demands enthusiasm more than anything else. Satisfaction with just being in the group isn't accepted.
"We're looking for separation, bottom line," Hill said. "We have a lot of receivers, and those guys have to prove they can play. Who catches while running with it and breaks tackles? Who blocks the hardest? Who's making plays?"
Hill agrees with Yost and Pinkel that the second-year players have improved, but he considers each inconsistent. Even when they perform well for a series of practices — consistency by some standards — one unfinished play or one missed block upsets Hill. Those little things determine whether Missouri can get to the top of the Big 12 Conference or not, he said.
Because of the importance of receivers in Missouri's offense, they have to respond positively when balls are dropped, flags aren't thrown or cramps kick in.
"(Hill) is demanding, very demanding," Hunt said. "The offense is basically based off of us, so we're supposed to be the leaders."
The easiest way to stand out during practice is to get open and make a play at the end during 11-on-11 drills. But that isn't necessarily in the receivers' control. The quarterbacks don't always find the open guy.
But by consistently doing drills in a fundamentally sound way, particularly after Hill has corrected them for something, the receivers answer questions the coach has about them.
Are they really listening to the coaching? Are they listening to what he says?
Lucas, Hunt and Sasser learn from the veteran receivers. Jackson, Wes Kemp and T.J. Moe give them advice. Watching tight end Michael Egnew last season was like a visual manual on how to separate themselves from the pack.
"You learn from those guys every day, whether it’s visually or verbally," Lucas said. "One of the biggest things is just watching. You try to pick up some of their habits and use them for themselves."
Lucas has the advantage of already dealing with more responsibility. Redshirts travel to a limited number of away games, so Hunt and Sasser didn't experience as much as he did.
"It gave me the opportunity to learn about the flow of things during the season, whether it's traveling or being with the team when they get into game plans on Saturday," Lucas said. "It's given me a good advantage."
Saturday's scrimmage will be a test for Lucas and his peers. Their movement up or down the on the depth chart will be their grade.
"The scrimmage will tell a lot with the number of plays each guy will get," Hill said. "Hopefully, they can show up."