The Missouri football team can’t pronounce his last name, so it calls him “Ek.” By all accounts Ek is a quiet, unassuming, freshman receiver who has climbed up the depth chart as quickly as he runs the 40-yard dash.
His full name is Brad Ekwerekwu, and he’s a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder from Arlington, Texas, who runs a 4.4 40-yard dash. He is No. 2 behind Darius Outlaw at one of the receiver positions and the only freshman on Missouri’s latest two-deep depth chart.
Ekwerekwu could play Saturday in Missouri’s season opener against Illinois at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Coach Gary Pinkel said Ekwerekwu is the best and healthiest of a talented group of freshmen receivers.
“All three of those receivers (Ekwerekwu, Jason Ray and Greg Bracey) are really high-level players,” Pinkel said. “We try to see who slightly might have the edge and just try to make the best decision we can. We just think that Brad’s a little ahead of the rest and he is working real hard and competing hard.”
Ekwerekwu played receiver and safety at Arlington High, catching 31 passes for 574 yards and five touchdowns his senior year. He also had four interceptions.
With Ekwerekwu entrenched on the depth chart, his chances of getting a redshirt are slim. Pinkel said there is a chance each of the three freshmen receivers could play in their first year, but decisions on Ray and Bracey will be made later.
DEFENSIVE FACELIFT: Missouri’s defense returns only four starters who will play at the same position they did last season.
Defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, linebacker James Kinney, outside safety Jason Simpson and cornerback Michael Harden are the familiar faces in familiar places. Atiyyah Ellison is another returning starter, but he moved to tackle in the spring after playing last season at end.
Pinkel said the changes on defense, especially in the secondary, are a good thing after struggling to find capable personnel when he arrived.
“We had some severe issues on defense when we (the coaching staff) got here,” Pinkel said. “The numbers were such that we’re still digging out of them. If you look at the back end of our defense we have different players than there were a year ago, and that’s good.”
The Tigers’ newest depth chart has two redshirt freshmen in starting positions (end Zach Ville and rover Dedrick Harrington) and junior transfer Nino Williams II is the free safety. Calvin Washington is No. 1 at one cornerback spot and converted safety Brandon Barnes is the other linebacker.
Harden said the new faces in the secondary will be under the most scrutiny, but they will be up for the challenge against Illinois.
“I like the pressure,” he said. “We’re going against a team that’s going to come out and pass a lot, and that will allow our secondary to try and redeem itself from last year. This is a new year, we’re ready, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
ABRON WATCH: Pinkel said tailback Zack Abron will be ready to play against Illinois.
His status was in question after he sprained his left ankle in a scrimmage Aug. 16, but he took his cast off Thursday and has been practicing since.
“Zack will start,” Pinkel said. “He is working hard and doing a good job.”