Missouri football: 5 things to note at the start of opening week

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 | 9:47 p.m. CDT; updated 1:20 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 27, 2014

COLUMBIA — The lines of players were a bit longer at Missouri football's practice Tuesday — they were lengthened by new walk-on players hoping to make the team.

Here are five things we've seen and heard at the start of Tigers' first game week:

Walk-ons abound

As Nelly's "Air Force Ones" blared over the speakers, assistant athletic director Pat Ivey led the Tigers through their stretches. The team tends to stretch about 20 minutes into practice, and the players group themselves in lines by position. The first-string players are at the head of the line; those who are buried in the depth chart — or those who are newcomers — are at the end of the line.

On Tuesday, there were several new faces and jersey numbers at the end of the lines — 19 in all, according to a spokesman for the football team. They were so new that the spokesman didn't have all of their names and information yet.

Injury update

Amid the lines of stretching players, only two Tigers were sporting red injury jerseys. Wide receiver Eric Laurent is still rehabbing a hamstring and a broken finger — he's considered "day-to-day," according to a Missouri football spokesman. Running back Morgan Steward is still nursing a hip injury and probably won't play in Saturday's opener.

First week of classes ... and an opener?!

At his press conference Monday, Pinkel said that this was the first time in "five or six years" that the opening game coincided with the start of classes. He went on to say it wasn't an "ideal" situation.

But Pinkel said "that's the way it's handed to us," and he expected his players to be mentally prepared to play Saturday.

If classes had started a week earlier, perhaps it would have given Missouri players more time to acclimate to their classes. Perhaps it also would have given the Tigers' coaches more time to evaluate the new crop of walk-ons and figure out which of them might have a place on Missouri's scout team.

Defensive intensity

Defensive coordinator Dave Steckel had his first-string defense going through drills that forced it to adjust to different offensive schemes and disguise its coverage. He liked what he was seeing from his starters.

"That's a helluva communication," Steckel said, complementing the way the defenders worked together to change their positioning in response to an offensive shift.

Steckel rapidly worked his defenders through scenarios that had them responding to offensive realignments. He talked about gap assignments — he hopped from gap to gap along the defensive line to help his players see the holes.

He was in the middle of an animated lecture when a helicopter buzzed the field, drowning out his voice. In mock frustration, Steckel pointed his arm at the helicopter.

"Bang!" he said, jokingly shooting down the chopper.

Tigers running behind

Student assistants were still setting out the orange end-zone markers when starting quarterback Maty Mauk — the first Tiger out of the locker room — sprinted onto the field at 3:40 p.m. for Tuesday's 3:30 p.m. practice. The rest of the team came out a couple of minutes later.

Supervising editor is Erik Hall.

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