COLUMBIA — Kony Ealy and Elvis Fisher should be getting sick of each other.
Twice a day over the past two weeks, the Missouri teammates have found themselves staring across the line at each other.
Fisher, a 6-foot-5, 295-pound tackle, often stands in the way of Ealy’s path to the quarterback. And Ealy, a redshirt sophomore on the rise, never stops coming.
Fall camp is a unique battle for Missouri players, because regardless of the drill, weather or time of day, the opponent rarely changes. And for Ealy and Fisher, both first-team players, each rep brings another opportunity to gain superiority.
The two Tigers found themselves in a familiar situation during a one-on-one drill Wednesday, where the objective is for the defensive lineman to get past or overpower the offensive lineman in front of him and eventually get his hands on a blue tackling dummy sitting helplessly feet away.
Ealy, crouching low in preparation, easily maneuvered past Fisher in their first confrontation, using his hands and leverage to get around the big tackle and mercilessly clothesline the dummy.
The two lined up again, with the rivalry producing similar results. Ealy faked to the outside, then spun in — past the off-balance Fisher – and smacked the dummy with his right arm, sending it tilting sideways.
Ealy jogged back to rejoin his fellow defensive linemen, a sly smile plastered across his face. Fisher was left shaking his head as his teammates offered solemn encouragement.
When playing across from a 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end with Ealy’s speed, Fisher knows that protecting the dummy is a tall task.
“Kony brings a great combination of athleticism and strength,” Fisher said. “That dude reminds me a little of Aldon (Smith) just because he’s tall, big, strong, fast. He’s a heck of a player.”
With such frequent reps, though, come opportunities for redemption.
The practice’s next drill emphasized the inside run, where the offensive and defensive lines battled to open or close holes for the Tigers’ running back.
Fisher, turning the tables on his practice rival, exploded off the ball, knocking Ealy backward and opening a comfortable path for senior tailback Kendial Lawrence. Again on the next play, Fisher had his way with Ealy, driving forward and knocking the defensive end off his feet.
In the monotonous repetition of fall camp, you can’t dwell too much on any single success or failure, Fisher says. Instead, both players are invested in the other’s success, talking after practices about how each can win the next day’s battle.
“When it comes to in between plays, we’ll laugh and brag about, ‘I got you on this.’ Just shoot the crap out there,” Fisher said. “But after practice, we’ll really talk about what happened out there.”
Ealy, who had 13 tackles and one sack last season, recognizes the value of learning from Fisher, a sixth-year senior and two-time All-Big 12 Honorable Mention.
“It’s quite a privilege to me,” Ealy said. “For real, because I look at him like an NFL-type tackle. He’s been here for a number of years. He knows what he’s doing, and he’s only going to make me better by going against him.”
And so, the two players who should be sick of each other the most – given the powerful blocks by Fisher and dummy-thumping drill work of Ealy – aren’t.
They seem to thrive off of the challenge, sharpening individual skills as Missouri prepares to face its own challenges in its first season in the SEC. After what defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski called Ealy’s “best camp so far,” expectations are high.
“I just expect him to play well. And if he doesn’t that would be a big disappointment,” Kuligowski said. “He’s got the talent and mindset to be a high-level player, so that’s what we expect out of him.”
With the season looming, Ealy hopes SEC quarterbacks soon suffer the same fate as the blue tackling dummies lying scuffed on Missouri’s practice field. Fisher, for one, is ready for a new offensive tackle to face Ealy from across the line.
“He always finishes, never gives up on a play. With him and Brad (Madison) rotating in there,” Fisher said, sneaking in an exasperated laugh, “it get’s pretty tough.”