COLUMBIA — On the first day of fall practice — Aug. 1 —Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel announced that he had made a request of his players.
“I told them to stay healthy,” Pinkel said. “Maybe they’ll listen this year.”
After a 2012 season racked with injuries to key players — including multiple injuries to starting quarterback James Franklin — Pinkel put in a new practice plan to prevent injuries, and it has worked. The Tigers have no significant injuries to report heading into Saturday’s season opener, and all players will be expected to suit up and play against Murray State.
The magic changes? Different drill sequences, changes to the conditioning program and the elimination of two-a-day practices.
The latter was a player favorite.
“It helped out the guys a lot,” Franklin said. “Not having to go twice a day … it gives them the ability to rest their bodies so they’re not running out there and feeling fatigue that leads to some injuries. I think that was a huge factor this year to why we didn’t have as many injuries.”
Pinkel admitted the lack of injuries is partially due to dumb luck, but he believes the practice changes were a key cog in the team’s clean bill of health.
“Our players work out all year round,” Pinkel said. “They’re here all summer long. I just think you wear kids out. Do I think (the new philosophy) was the overriding factor? Not necessarily."
“I think there’s a psychological edge that goes with it. ‘Coach Pinkel has made some changes. He wants to keep us healthy.’”
The biggest hindrance to the team last season was the loss of Franklin for three games. He suffered knee, shoulder and head injuries that also limited him when he actually did play. It didn’t help that several offensive linemen were on the injury report at various points, too.
“There’s fallout when you lose your starting quarterback,” Pinkel said. “There’s fallout when you replace five of your 10 offensive linemen. You don’t distribute the ball efficiently.”
Pinkel added that Franklin’s health problems were abnormal.
“If you get a composite of all the quarterbacks I’ve coached over the years, I’ve never had more (injuries) on one body in one year,” Pinkel said. “That’s very difficult, especially with our offensive line problems.”
But this year, the Tigers have a big advantage going into the season: everyone is available. No inexperienced players getting thrown into the fire unexpectedly. No quarterback carousel. This week, anyway.
“The best teams I’ve been around — the prerequisite is you have to be healthy,” Pinkel said. “We get a lot better as a team when we stay healthy. That’s the No. 1 thing.”