COLUMBIA — Something is missing from Missouri football practice, and it’s obvious.
It’s Saturday morning, a week before Missouri wraps up spring practice with the annual Black and Gold Game, and the first practice since head coach Gary Pinkel officially kicked his star wide receiver and former No. 1 recruit in the country, Dorial Green-Beckham, off the team after he was the suspect in a police incident a week earlier.
• Redshirt freshman wide receiver J'Mon Moore said he was in the car with the four Missouri athletes who were arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession in March. While Moore did not get in legal trouble, he was briefly suspended from practice.
Moore is among the candidates to get an increase in playing time with Green-Beckham off the team. He caught seven passes for 58 yards during the scrimmage on Saturday.
• Senior running back Marcus Murphy returned from a sprained ankle suffered during the scrimmage last week and rushed for 58 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday. He said that the ankle is still sore but that it's getting better every day.
• Sophomore cornerback Aarion Penton had a pair of interceptions and the defense claimed the victory in the scrimmage on Saturday.
Gone is his 6-foot-6-inch, 225-pound frame and blazing speed on the outside. Gone are the team-leading 59 catches and 12 receiving touchdowns from a year ago. And gone is the positive energy Missouri had built up from the 2013 season.
The 12-2 season that ended in a trip to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and a Cotton Bowl victory never seemed so far away.
“It’s not a real fun day to be a head football coach,” Pinkel said.
Missouri is trying moving on as best it can. Bud Sasser slid into Green-Beckham’s spot as the starting “X” receiver on the outside. Sophomore wide receiver Levi Copelin drew a reaction from the crowd with a few impressive catches and a big block. But as hard as it is to move on from a player of Green-Beckham’s caliber on the field, moving on from these types of incidents off the field is the challenge facing the entire athletic department.
“It was about protecting the integrity of the program,” Pinkel said. “It wasn’t about who’s going to be playing wide receiver.”
Pinkel doesn’t think the integrity of the program has been compromised and insists nothing needs to change in terms of how Missouri recruits or handles player conduct.
“We’re very, very thorough in our evaluation,” Pinkel said. “Very thorough.”
If nothing else, Pinkel said he wants Green-Beckham’s dismissal from the team to send a message to the rest of his players. With less than 24 hours to digest the news before taking the field, the wound is still fresh for the players. Arguably the most talented player on their roster entering spring practice is now gone.
"It’s definitely a wake-up call,” redshirt freshman wide receiver J’Mon Moore said. “We love Dorial. We love him. Of course we want him to play. It sucks that he’s dismissed. But it’s definitely a wake-up call to everyone on the team that if you’re not in line, stay in line. It’s an eye-opener.”
Losing Green-Beckham on the field and getting a wake-up call were only part of the equation. Missouri players are moving forward with the 2014 football season without a teammate and a friend while also trying to be there for Green-Beckham as he tries to get back on track.
“It hit him kind of hard," senior running back Marcus Murphy said. "I don’t think he was expecting all of this to go the way it did. Sometimes you just have to go through that and battle the adversity to battle back, get back on track."
"I love that kid," Pinkel added. "I want him to get some help. He can go to another place and get a fresh start. He can still achieve his goals.”
Now, Missouri has to focus on battling through its own adversity. The Tigers are now without 15 key contributors from last year's team. Green-Beckham is gone, the 12-2 season is in the past, and it's time for a team that has looked sluggish throughout much of the first two spring scrimmages to move on from the past — good and bad.
"Some of the younger guys realize it’s time to grow up," Copelin said. "We don’t have time for mistakes. We don’t have time for childish behavior."