Punting game up in air

Monday, August 16, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:50 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Senior punter Brock Harvey has had to answer the same question a lot this summer: Why was the punting game inconsistent last season?

“It was a combination of things,” Harvey said. “If it was one thing, I probably could have fixed it. A lot of it was mental and mechanic-wise and just getting comfortable behind the line. I can’t pinpoint things.”

That explains why coach Gary Pinkel has made punting a priority during Missouri’s preseason practice period.

During most practices, including Sunday’s helmets-and-pads workout, the Tigers spend 15 or so minutes working on punting. The drill has a rush from a defense.

Harvey said, though, the practice has worked, for he said the punting game appears to be returning to the form it had in 2002.

The Tigers’ punting game went from 19th in the nation in net punting in 2002 to 114th in the nation last year. To improve, Pinkel has addressed every involved aspect.

“There’s a lot of things when you look at punting,” Pinkel said. “You look at coverage. You look at protection. You look at the snap. There’s a lot of things you look at besides the punter. We’ve got to sort that out.”

The Tigers averaged 30.6 net yards per punt last season compared to 36.9 in 2002. A similar statistical change occurred to Harvey. After he punted for 42.5 yards in 2002, Harvey’s average dropped nearly 6 yards.

Harvey, who started 12 games last year, said he feels comfortable behind the line.

“If you’ve seen where we started day one to where we are now, it’s definitely picked up,” Harvey said.

“As far as consistency goes, we’re getting to where we’re starting to feel comfortable now.”

Despite Harvey’s struggles last season, Pinkel said he maintains confidence in Harvey. He also said sophomore Matt Hoenes has improved considerably during the preseason.

RAY RUNNING WITH FIRST TEAM: After senior wide receiver Sean Coffey separated his right shoulder in Friday’s practice, redshirt freshman Jason Ray has taken advantage of his opportunity to practice with the first team.

“I think I’ve done pretty well,” Ray said. “I feel really comfortable. I feel used to the pace of the game. Just the transition from high school to college, I’m used to it now. I’m a lot more comfortable with the play calls, so I can get out there and react and play football.”

In Sunday’s practice, Ray consistently held on to passes and made a tough catch in traffic in an 11-on-11 scrimmage.

“He’s made a lot of progress,” Pinkel said. “He made a lot of plays in practice (Sunday).

“Every receiver has, kind of, their thing that they’re good at. Some of the great ones are probably good at everything. He, thus far, has been very physical. He goes out and catches very consistently.”

HAIR-RAISING HAIR STYLE: In honor of the media/picture/fan day, senior Nino Williams let out of his normal braids and combed it out into an afro.

“It’s something different than wearing braids,” he said. “It’s pretty nice outside. Most of the times when it is hot, I don’t like to wear it. Since it’s pretty cool, I figured I’d let it go.”

Williams said his hair, which grows about 6 inches from his head in its natural state, needed five years to grow as long as it is. Unfortunately, for those who missed it, Williams said he wanted to have it back in braids before today’s 8:15 a.m. practice.

“I really don’t like practice and play in games (with it) because it gets real hot,” he said. “Plus, hair gets stuck in the screws inside the helmet. It’s a hassle, so I just try to keep it kept up.”

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