Missouri football playing it safe with injuries to key players

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 | 8:34 p.m. CDT; updated 7:34 a.m. CDT, Monday, August 26, 2013

COLUMBIA – In a sea of black and white jerseys at Missouri football practice Tuesday, two players in red jerseys stuck out.

Senior cornerback and captain E.J. Gaines and junior running back Henry Josey, both All-Big 12 Conference players in 2011, were held out of practice after suffering injuries Monday.

Gaines led stretches in the red jersey after hurting his knee Monday. An MRI revealed a strained patellar tendon, according to team spokesman Chad Moller. He is expected to be out of practice for a week, but given the Tigers’ luck with knee injuries a year ago, the severity of this particular ailment is considered minor.

Meanwhile, Josey was experiencing hamstring soreness following Monday’s workout. The team had planned to schedule days of rest for Josey as he recovered from a knee injury, so Tuesday’s practice was a prime opportunity.

“If it was a game, those guys would be going,” quarterback James Franklin said. “We’re not really concerned.”

The Tigers limped into the 2012 season with Franklin and five of his top-10 offensive linemen dealing with injuries. To this point in 2013, Missouri has avoided injuries. Safety Matt White and wide receiver Marcus Lucas are the only starters who have been held out of practice with injury.

Coach Gary Pinkel, who was not available to the media Tuesday, did away with two-a-days in an effort to keep his team healthier for the start of the season.

“We have to make it to September,” Pinkel said at the start of camp.

So far so good, and Tuesday appears to be another bullet dodged.

A new focus

Redshirt freshman tight end Sean Culkin has turned heads during fall camp. He has earned a spot as the team’s No. 1 tight end. So it came as a bit of surprise that he didn’t have any passes thrown his way in the team’s first scrimmage.

But under new offensive coordinator Josh Henson, the tight end is being asked to block more. Culkin has added weight and strength in an effort to fill the role, and he doesn’t mind the lack of passes coming his way.

“Catching balls is only half our job,” Culkin said. “The tight ends have improved our blocking since the spring. A lot of people might not have noticed, but we really struggled there.”

Henson said that once the team is up to speed with some of the new offensive concepts, the coaching staff will worry about targeting specific players.

"I’m not in that mode right now that we’ve got to pump the ball to this guy or pump the ball to that guy,” Henson said. “Really, I’m in the mode that we have to execute what we have called."

Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.

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