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Missouri football kicking game is a DIY business

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 | 8:01 p.m. CDT; updated 7:34 a.m. CDT, Monday, August 26, 2013
Punter Christian Brinser stretches during practice Aug. 13 at Memorial Stadium.

COLUMBIA — Some say football is a game of inches, but it often comes down to a foot.

A team with a player skilled at putting his foot to the ball has an advantage in close games, but as Missouri punters coach Alex Grinch points out, those players are often an afterthought.

Notes from Day 14

  • Safety Matt White, running back Henry Josey and cornerback John Gibson all returned to practice on Wednesday after missing time with injuries.
  • Cornerback E.J. Gaines was still sidelined by a knee injury, though coach Gary Pinkel said he feels fortunate it wasn't more serious. "After last year, we're all a little gun shy," Pinkel said.
  • Junior college transfer Duron Singleton had his second full-pads practice on Wednesday after joining the team last week. Pinkel said Singleton will get an opportunity to work his way up the depth chart in the Tigers defensive secondary and will play in Thursday's scrimmage. "We recognize that there's going to be mistakes made," Pinkel said. "We're just looking at can this guy add some depth, possible start and compete."
  • Thursday's scrimmage is the second of three during fall camp and one that will bring clarity to the depth chart. Pinkel said the coaching staff evaluates all of the practices, but a few key positional battles could be nearing a conclusion. "We're going to have to make some decisions here at all positions," Pinkel said. "We're not scrimmaging for the next three months. You've got to show."


“Nobody really cares about the punter until you don’t have one,” Grinch said.

Missouri is hands off when it comes to kicking specialists. Head coach Gary Pinkel often finds them through walk-on tryouts and does not offer scholarships until kickers and punters prove themselves on the field.

The lax approach to the kicking game is compounded on the practice field, where there is no special teams coordinator or former kicker to lend a hand with the technical aspects.

“I couldn’t punt a lick,” Grinch said.

He describes himself as a “do as I say, not as I do” coach. He spent three years as punters coach at Wyoming, but at Missouri, he is also the safeties coach, so he usually has other things on his mind than the kicking game during practice. He lets the punters figure out what they’re doing wrong on their own.

“They gotta know how to fix it,” Grinch said. “You compare it to being a golfer. If you’re struggling to hit your three-iron, you better figure it out. No one’s going to tell you how to swing it.”

Grinch said Missouri’s approach is not unusual for a major college football program, and he’s right, even in the Southeastern Conference, the most prestigious football conference in America.

Four of the 14 members – Missouri, Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi State – don’t officially list any sort of special teams coach. Grinch isn’t even listed as the Tigers’ punters coach on Missouri’s website.

Only two schools — South Carolina and LSU — have coordinators who focus solely on special teams, while the other eight programs have special teams coordinators who also have another position group to focus on.

The consensus in college football’s heartland, which has spun out four first-team All-American kickers and punters in the past four seasons, is that coaches aren’t necessary.

“Not a lot of people know how to kick,” said Tigers punter Christian Brinser of the hands-off approach, “so I kind of knew what I was getting into.”

Like most specialists during Pinkel’s reign, Brinser is a walk-on. The redshirt junior had one 47-yard punt against Western Illinois in 2011, but this year will be his first as a starter after Trey Barrow graduated in the spring.

When things go wrong — as things tend to do in the fickle game of kicking — Brinser will be in charge of fixing his problems, be they technical or psychological.

Football coaches love to correct their players’ mistakes, but when it comes to kicking, not so much.

“That’s all right,” Brinser said. “It would definitely be a luxury.”


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