COLUMBIA — Last season when the Missouri football team played Texas A&M, the Tigers broke the 31-31 tie in overtime with a touchdown pass from James Franklin to Marcus Lucas.
At the start of the play, the offense was at the 11-yard line. Lucas, the 6-foot-5 receiver, was lined up wide to the left, with only one Aggie defensive back in front of him. He ran a fade route.
Once the ball was snapped, Lucas ran toward the corner of the end zone. As the pass came in from Franklin, Lucas turned back to face the ball, leaping to catch it at the highest point possible. He caught it and the Tigers won the game 38-31.
On Saturday, the third day of practice for the Missouri football team and the first practice with players wearing shoulder pads, the receivers began by running fade routes to the corner of the end zone with no defender. During this drill, receivers did not turn around or leap to try and catch the ball at the highest point. Instead, they tried to run under the ball while still facing forward, as they have every day of practice so far.
"Shield the guy from the outside land just to catch the ball over the shoulder. That way, it gives just you the chance to catch the ball," said receiver L'Damian Washington. "It's just something that Coach (David) Yost is trying to add to the offense."
Yost, Missouri's offensive coordinator, says there are basically two ways to approach the fade route. There will be times when it is best for a receiver to go up and get the ball, on a throw to the back or outside shoulder. Other times, a receiver should not turn back so he can shield the defender from the ball and avoid "chicken-fighting" with the corner.
"We're working on both of those more," Yost said. "We met with some people this year. I thought Oklahoma State was probably the best team I've ever seen throw fades last year. And Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, they were great players, but also they threw the fade as well as anybody I'd ever seen in college football."
So over the summer, Yost met with Todd Monkin, the Oklahoma State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, to talk about running the fade. Missouri Co-Offensive Line Coach Josh Henson knew Monkin from when they coached together at Oklahoma State from 2002 to 2004.
Yost said the type of fade the offense should run depends a lot on the location of the corner. He said if the corner is even with or underneath the receiver, the quarterback should try to drop the ball in over the top.
"Either they are gonna have some kind of pass interference or they are not gonna be able to get to it," Lucas said.
If the corner is on top or in front of the receiver, the quarterback should throw a pass with a more flat trajectory toward the back shoulder, but one still high enough to where the corner can't reach it if he tries to redirect himself, according to Yost.
"That's when you want to throw it more of the 'Aaron Rodgers throw him open,' where you throw it and the receiver adjusts to the ball when it's in the air," Yost said.
Yost wants to be able to use the fade in the red zone to take advantage of the team's tall group of receivers — 6-foot-6 Dorial Green-Beckham, 6-foot-5 Lucas and 6-foot-4 Washington.
He also wants to use tight ends, mentioning Missouri's two new 6-foot-5 tight ends Sean Culkin and Brandon Holifield.
"They have big corners in the SEC, but I have yet to see a guy listed as tall as any of those guys and that is a corner," Yost said. "That is probably where we can have some advantage and take advantage down in the red zone area."
Freshman Green-Beckham could eventually see a lot of fade passes thrown his way because of his height, but the highly touted receiver is still trying to settle in at practice. He has been working with the third team offense in 11-on-11 drills, but has not been extremely involved.
Washington, who is rooming with Green-Beckham, likes how the the newcomer is progressing.
"That's my little brother on the team and I'm just trying to keep him encouraged, keep him motivated," Washington said. "Anytime you are the No. 1 prospect in the nation that is a lot of pressure. I just tell him, 'Its just like high school, just playing football, man. You do what you do best.'"
Green-Beckham saw more passes thrown his way Saturday than in either of the previous two practice days. He started out 11-on-11 drills by letting a ball slip through his hands on what would have been a seven-yard gain. Another ball was poked out of his hands as he tried to make the catch.
"I know he's thinking a lot. So there is a few more that have bounced off him, but I know that he catches the ball very cleanly and smoothly," Yost said.
Yost said the freshman's drops were simply a result of thinking too much, not a lack of catching ability. Lucas also thinks Green-Beckham is doing well and just needs time to adjust.
"He's just continuing to learn the plays. That's the biggest thing. Once he does that, the speed and everything will come with it," Lucas said.
Later, Green-Beckham began to look more comfortable, catching passes on consecutive plays for 10 and 15 yards.
"He made some strides today and everything; we just got to keep getting him the football and keep bringing him along," Yost said.
On Sunday, the team will host the 10th annual Football Fan Day at Faurot Field. Parking and admission for the event are free and the gates open at 3:45 p.m. Parking is available in lots surrounding Memorial Stadium. Coaches and players will sign autographs until 5:15 p.m.
Free water will be provided, but fans are encouraged to bring their own sealed bottles of water as well. Other outside food and beverages are not permitted.