The Big 12 Conference championship wasn’t on the line, but the stakes were a little higher than an average two-a-day.
The Missouri football team had its first scrimmage, and first full-contact practice, Tuesday at Memorial Stadium. It also was the first time running back Damien Nash took a hit since he returned from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. Coach Gary Pinkel said he was happy to see Nash’s progress.
“This is a big day for him personally and it would be for any player that comes off a knee surgery, especially a running back that’s going to get tackled for the first time in a couple years,” Pinkel said. “I think he probably feels a little better about himself and we expect him to continue to get better and better.”
The first-string offense started against the second-string defense. The offense moved the ball well on its first possession, fueled by Zack Abron’s 12-yard burst off the left side and an 8-yard screen pass to Darius Outlaw. The drive stalled when free safety David Overstreet deflected a pass intended for Thomson Omboga.
The offense began another drive from the 43, and Brad Smith found Outlaw again to start the drive. The offense moved to the 22 before the drive stopped. Kickers Alex Petterson and Mike Matheny kicked a 39-yard field goal to end the possession.
The first-team offense ran 10 plays before the second-string came in to play the first-team defense. The defense played well, with defensive end Brian Smith leading. Brian Smith spent a good part of the scrimmage in the backfield “sacking” backup Santino Riccio, who was wearing the green “no-contact” quarterback jersey. Smith, who looks more like a wide receiver than a defensive end, said he relies on his speed off the edge to create havoc in the backfield.
“Being I’m only 220 pounds, speed is what I have working for me,” Smith said. “That’s not a lot of weight to be a defensive end, so I got to depend on my speed.”
Pinkel said he can’t evaluate the scrimmage until he sees it on tape, but the coaching staff has a meticulous method for grading the players.
After every practice the coaching staff sits and watches a tape of the practice. After watching the practice, Pinkel said the staff discusses every player. Pinkel learned the process from former Washington coach Don James. He said the evaluation system is time-consuming, but it’s the best way to see where his players stand.
When there is a scrimmage, the staff treats it more like a game. After the scrimmage the staff grades each player on things such as point of attack and production.
“We are constantly looking at personnel,” Pinkel said. “We are just a little more thorough from the standpoint of grading each and every play for our players. It’s impossible to do that after every practice.”
NOT HANGIN’ WITH MR. COOPERPinkel said Gartrell Cooper, a freshman defensive end from Arlington, Texas, will not report this season for undisclosed personal reasons. Pinkel said he spoke with Cooper on Monday night and it was decided that Cooper will come to Missouri in January.
David Richard, a running back transfer from Michigan State, practiced without a red jersey for the first time since Friday.
Tight end Victor Sesay continued to rest his twisted right knee, but Pinkel said Sesay will return soon.
“We expect him to get back very shortly,” Pinkel said. “He had an MRI, and it was clean.”
GETTING THEIR KICKSMatheny and Petterson are competing for the kicking job and Petterson has emerged as the early leader.
Petterson routinely leads his group in running drills and made each of his four field goal attempts in the scrimmage. Petterson said he has improved a lot since last season.
“My strength’s a lot better, and I’m attacking the ball a lot better than last season,” Pettersen said. “I just realized I had to get stronger and more mature.”