COLUMBIA — The week after Missouri's 2012 football season came to a close, cornerback E.J. Gaines received a call from his position coach, Cornell Ford. Ford gave the former Big 12 All-Conference cornerback a list.
Footwork. Technique. Fundamentals. All things that Gaines needed to improve before coming back to fall camp, which officially opened for the Tigers on Thursday.
Gaines immediately got to work, and the results showed up in the spring. But the real grind for Gaines came in the summer months, when he spent the majority of his time in Columbia working on getting stronger, faster and more explosive.
His teammates took notice, and when they sat down to vote for captains before Thursday's first practice, Gaines was among the four chosen along with quarterback James Franklin, wide receiver L'Damian Washington and linebacker Andrew Wilson.
"We wait until this time so that all of that leadership can take place," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said after Thursday's practice. "From January when they get back all the way through the summer."
Franklin, Washington and Wilson are reserved, but Gaines' leadership shows up in different ways.
Gaines, who once had his hair cut in a blond mohawk, turned heads with the unique design he shaved into the side of his head before camp. As he removed his helmet after Thursday's practice, he revealed the haircut along with an ear-to-ear smile. He laughed with reporters and joked with teammates.
"I think the main thing is just speaking up as a captain," Gaines said. "And show them that you deserve respect."
Even though he appears loose, his smile disappears when talking about 2012.
Gaines went from All-Conference in the Big 12 his sophomore year to an afterthought in the Southeastern Conference, which had three cornerbacks drafted in the top 50 picks of the 2013 NFL Draft.
He recognizes that the conference will have talented players at cornerback again but doesn't hesitate to set high goals.
"I want to be the best," he said.
While he admits to setting personal goals, Gaines sets the bar even higher for his teammates. He expects the team to go undefeated and has been doing his part to make that happen.
He stays up late with the younger cornerbacks, going over the playbook and discussing the nuances of the position that he wished he knew at a younger age.
Gaines may not be fighting for a starting spot like some of his teammates, but he still has lots of motivation. The late-night study sessions and long summer hours of training have come to an end, and he's ready to get back on the field to put 2012 behind him.
An offseason that started with a phone call and a to-do list can't be over soon enough. Gaines can't help but crack a smile.
"The offseason was really long," Gaines said.
Tigers change pace to stay healthy
In an effort to prevent injuries this season, Pinkel decided to get rid of two-a-day practices and implement fewer drills that involve physical contact. The change to one practice per day means that the Tigers must make better use of their time.
“It’s more of a quality versus quantity ideal,” senior guard Max Copeland said. “These are very dense practices. There’s not a whole lot of downtime, no lollygagging time.”
After suffering through last year's injury-plagued 5-7 season, Pinkel had to act.
“I just feel a little bit hesitant not to do something different,” Pinkel said. “I told the guys to stay healthy. Maybe they’ll listen this year.”
Captain's spot means little on the field
Pinkel made it clear that his four new captains are not guaranteed starting jobs this fall.
“There’s no bonus because you’re the captain,” Pinkel said. “This has nothing to do with keeping your job. The best players play, and you do that on the field.”
However, Pinkel, who was a team captain as a tight end at Kent State in 1973, is certainly proud of his four leaders.
“Overall, I think it was a good selection, and generally, I can pick it,” Pinkel said. “When I was a captain in college, it was the greatest compliment I ever had as a player because it’s your teammates (voting).”
Players missing on first day
Junior college recruit Duron Singleton was not on the field for Thursday’s practice, and Pinkel said the defensive back will not be joining the team this fall because of personal reasons.
Defensive tackle A.J. Logan was held out because of a knee ailment. Pinkel said the recent Rock Bridge High School graduate is “dinged up.”
Cornerback Anthony Sherrills is almost fully recovered from a car accident he was involved in two and a half months ago. Pinkel said the team is “being cautious” and Sherrills has already passed a physical.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.