Indoor practices keep Tigers on their toes

Thursday, August 7, 2014 | 9:38 p.m. CDT; updated 10:58 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 7, 2014
Due to heavy rain on Thursday, Missouri football players practiced in MU's Devine Pavilion. The indoor field was more cramped than their standard practice field, so they had to adjust their movements to avoid hitting one another.

COLUMBIA — Missouri freshman wide receiver Lawrence Lee streaked toward the end zone. Overhead, the football floated under the lights.

Lee made a quick adjustment with his body and reached out his hands. The ball grazed his fingertips and bounced on the turf, tumbling toward the end zone.

Lee pursued the pigskin, scooping it up and veering off his route at the last second — saving himself and the ball from careening into the offensive linemen who were practicing blocking drills in the Devine Practice Facility end zone.

On Thursday, rain forced the Tigers' practice indoors. In the tighter confines, players had to maintain spatial awareness. As Missouri assistant coaches explained, safety is a concern in such close quarters. Quarterbacks can't throw the ball deep as often. And receivers must adjust to the lighting — and the fact that offensive linemen are tussling in the end zone.

The indoor facility houses a 90-yard field with a single true end zone — including a goalpost — at one end.

It's apparent the loss of space can create some hazards.

Aside from Lee's close call with the offensive linemen, there were two other near collisions during the first 45 minutes of practice. On one occasion, redshirt freshman Eddie Serrano fell over fellow defensive lineman A.J. Logan during a defensive pass-catching drill. Logan, a Rock Bridge graduate and also a redshirt freshman, was retrieving a football when Serra back-pedaled into him.

"Man down," some of the D-linemen said jeeringly.

Moments earlier, junior defensive end Shane Ray had to sidestep head coach Gary Pinkel while trying to make a play on a pass. As Ray slipped past Pinkel, the coach patted him on the shoulder — perhaps a silent thanks for avoiding a collision.

After practice, defensive coordinator Dave Steckel discussed safety and the attitude change that accompanies a change of venue.

"I think what it (practicing indoors) does ... is (that) their environment changes," Steckel said. The players are "going on the grass, and then all of a sudden, you're in the indoor. It changes their attitude when they come inside."

"So you just got to be a little more careful with the safety part," Steckel said.

Offensive coordinator Josh Henson — who said players prefer the cooler outdoor grass fields this time of year — shared similar sentiments about practicing indoors.

"I mean, obviously, we don't have quite as much space in here as we do out on the practice fields," Henson said. "Sometimes you got to be careful about having drills running into each other."

Quarterbacks coach Andy Hill understands that different position groups can get in one anothers' way during indoor drills — he said his quarterbacks sometimes have to shave "10 yards off some routes."

The quarterbacks must be aware of where they're throwing the ball, Hill said.

Receivers coach Pat Washington is aware his receivers have to adjust to lighting.

"We had problems tracking the ball every now and then," Washington said. "For me as a receiver, that's (tracking the ball) the biggest thing."

"There's lights in the air, and it's kinda dark early on, but we fixed it and got better," Washington said. "That wasn't a major problem."

Perhaps the lighting is what troubled Lee as he made his last-second adjustment to the ball early in Thursday's practice. If it wasn't the lighting, maybe it was Lee's awareness that offensive linemen were milling about in the end zone where, as Hill said, they're rarely found.

Whatever the case, credit the receiver for hustling after the ball and managing to stay out of the big fellas' way.

A collision may not have ended favorably for the receiver. The pack of linemen had a few inches and a few hundred pounds on the 5-foot-11 and 175-pound Lee.

Supervising editor is Erik Hall.

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