For the first time in Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel’s three years, his team might have the depth it needs to win.
Pinkel said he was pleased with his team’s energy at the first practice Wednesday on Faurot Field’s new FieldTurf.
“It was a good practice, a lot of enthusiasm,” Pinkel said. “We’ve obviously got a long way to go.”
The distance the Tigers need to travel includes settling hotly contested position battles at defensive back.
Pinkel said the coaching staff will evaluate and determine the five best players in the secondary positions (two cornerbacks, whip, rover and free safety). If any of the top five players play the same position, the staff will find a way for all of the players to be on the field at the same time.
The fight for the starting free safety spot is one of the more interesting battles. Nino Williams, a transfer from Tyler (Texas) Junior College, is at the top of the depth chart, but converted quarterback David Overstreet is expected to push for the job.
“We want to get our best five athletes playing,” Pinkel said. “The free safety is a very unique position. If we are put in the position where both of them are playing so well we possibly could play both and it’s also our responsibility to make sure we get the best players on the field.”
Depth on defense is something the program has been lacking in recent years. Overstreet is excited about the possibilities depth adds to the team.
“People are actually coming with their minds right,” Overstreet said. “We’re ready to play. People are starting to feed off what Coach Pinkel has brought in about the intensity to win, the will to win, to want to do something. It’s like it’s bleeding over to everybody else. It’s like the cup runneth over. It’s just running to everybody.”
EVERY OTHER TWO-A-DAY: The Tigers will have their first two-a-day practices Monday. New NCAA guidelines prohibit teams from practicing twice a day on consecutive days. The wait to begin two-a-days is something to which Pinkel said every team must adjust.
“We’ve always had two-a-days right away, so we’ve got this acclimation period which is five days,” Pinkel said. “We end up getting about three more practices out of it for our veteran players, so it works out fine.”
Pinkel said his coaching staff at Toledo studied the methods Bill Walsh used with the San Francisco 49ers in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Walsh never had two-a-day practices, but used the spare time to analyze and teach players. The knowledge of Walsh’s system allowed Pinkel’s staff to make an easy transition to the new rule.
“Coaches that I know around the country that know we have done this for years are calling us and asking us our approach,” Pinkel said. “I think it’s a much safer way for learning, for retention, for injury; there are so many reasons why you do that, but again for us it’s been pretty easy.”
NO-SHOWS: Brandon Massey and Gartrell Cooper did not practice Wednesday. Pinkel said Massey was absent because of academic paperwork that had to be taken care of.
Cooper was gone because of personal reasons, Pinkel said. Massey, a defensive back, transferred from Michigan State, and Cooper is a freshman defensive end.
Rayfield Johnson, who recently spent seven days in Boone County jail, was not at practice but is on the team, according to Chad Moeller, director of media relations.
Johnson, a senior defensive back, pleaded guilty to second-degree property damage and harassment, both misdemeanors, and began serving the sentence July 29.
PRACTICE WEAR: The Tigers practiced in helmets and shorts, and will add pads Sunday. Josh Hibbets, who moved from quarterback to outside safety in the spring, and Emmett Morris wore red jerseys signifying no contact.
Midway through practice, defensive lineman Zach Kauflin left the field with an injured right ankle. When he returned, he was also wearing a red jersey. Kauflin’s ankle was the only injury of the day.
FIRST-DAY JITTERS: On Wednesday, Williams gave some of his first interviews as a Tiger. While Williams talked to reporters, wide receiver Darius Outlaw heckled him, calling his name and making faces. Afterward Williams reprimanded Outlaw.
“Don’t be distracting me, making me stutter,” Williams said.
Said Outlaw: “You’ve got to get used to that now.”