The drill looks simple.
Receivers coach Andy Hill throws a soft, high-arcing pass to a player running toward the goal line. The player doesn’t turn around until the ball is near him.
In three of the corners of Faurot Field, the drill is as simple as it sounds. Barring an errant throw by Hill, the receiver will make the catch and drag one of his feet to stay in bounds. But in the northeast corner of the field, staying in bounds is the least of the receiver’s problems.
Because of the north-south configuration of Memorial Stadium, the setting sun can shine directly into the eyes of a receiver trying to make a catch. During practice on Tuesday, the sun affected Tiger receivers. After losing a ball in the sun, sophomore wide receiver Travis May yelled, “I can’t see that s---!”. Fellow wide receiver Andrew Hoskins also cursed after turning around to look for a pass, but only to find the glare of the sun.
“Those hard to find moments are kind of fun. They’re a stress reliever and it lightens the mood,” senior wide receiver Brad Ekwerekwu said. “But at the same time, it’s frustrating. You run a good route and maybe some big play is riding on it, and you lose it in the sun. You look silly when you lose it in the sun.”
Hill said he doesn’t care how his players look dealing with the sun. He said he only cares if they drop the ball.
“No excuses for dropping a ball. No excuse for that,” Hill said. “It doesn’t matter if the sun is in your eyes or not, catch the ball.”
To combat the glare of the sun, Hill said that players can try to shield their eyes with their hand, but not too high for them to react when the ball is thrown to them. But, Hill said, he doesn’t talk to them about the glare.
“I tell the players nothing. I just say ‘Catch the football,’” Hill said. “Sun, no sun, you have to find a way. There are ways to catch the ball if it goes into the sun. If you have to, catch the sun.
“If you give a mouse a cookie he’ll want a gallon of milk, so you don’t talk much about it.”
Some players, such as sophomore tight end Chase Coffman, say they don’t do much different in the northeast corner.
“You just got to go up and get the ball,” Coffman said. “Just look it in, just have to try to keep your eye on the ball and block it out.”
Coffman, like Ekwerekwu, wasn’t wearing eye black on Tuesday. Instead, Ekwerekwu said he makes slight adjustments to his technique.
“A lot of times, if I’m running a route, I try not to look back at the ball too early,” Ekwerekwu said. “I figure the less time I look into the sky, the less time I get blinded by the sun. It cuts down on your reaction time but if you can cut (the time looking into the sun) down by a couple seconds, you should be all right.”
Ekwerekwu also said the sun can affect field goals and extra points. As the holder, Ekwerekwu has to communicate with kicker Adam Crossett about when the snap will come. And if Ekwerekwu has to look at Crossett, who is standing in the sun, it could temporarily impair his vision.
“Sometimes you have to use different signals. I try not to look back at the kicker,” Ekwerekwu said. “So I know that he’s ready, I have him give a verbal cue or a tap or something.”
Junior wide receiver Jason Ray, who was wearing eye black, recognized that the glare will always be a part of catching passes at Memorial Stadium.
“The sun is out there,” Ray said. “It’s not going anywhere, so you have to deal with it.”
BACK TO WORK: The Tigers practiced for the first time after taking 10 days off for spring break. Coach Gary Pinkel said that he expected a lack of intensity for the first 20 minutes of practice.
“It’s kind of like, always in the fall, the first day of school,” Pinkel said. “You’re going through two-a-days, and you have the first day they have school, they’ve got that faraway look.
“You anticipate it. So, it’s up to us coaches to make sure we do the things necessary to get them going.”
HUMPRHEY QUESTIONABLE: Tigers wide receiver Jerrill Humphrey did not participate Tuesday. Pinkel said that it is an academic situation and added that his future with the team is unknown.
If Humphrey is not a part of the team, it could tax the Tigers’ depth chart at wide receiver. Without Humphrey, the Tigers will have only five scholarship players at that position. Pinkel, however, said Missouri’s offensive system can help ease problems with depth.
“You have tight ends in there, too,” Pinkel said. “You can mix and match players. We’re allowed, in our system, to play a lot of players in a lot of different positions.”