The yells and hits at football practice Saturday morning were louder than usual.
Missouri played in full pads for the first time since Nov. 25 when the Tigers beat Kansas 42-17, causing players to yell and holler at big hits inside Devine Pavilion.
Practicing in full pads meant the return to full contact instead of two-hand touch. Defensive end Xzavie Jackson said he liked being back in full gear after practicing in warm-up pants, shoulder pads and helmets the previous two days.
“It felt good. My back loosened up a little bit.” Jackson said.
Receiver Brad Ekwerekwu, however, had a different opinion.
“It was a struggle,” Ekwerekwu said. “A lot of guys might have been mentally defeated early on, but it’s like riding a bike.”
Ekwerekwu said starting practices for the Sun Bowl on Dec. 29 helped ease the team back into football. Another way the team is easing back into the sport is by getting back to basics.
Coach Gary Pinkel said the first four to six practices will focus on fundamentals and not game planning for Oregon State, Missouri’s opponent in the Sun Bowl. He said the Tigers will start to focus specifically on the Beavers once players finish finals next week.
“We have so many practices prior to the game that we design the first few more like spring practices where you work on skill improvement, mastering your position more and, obviously, fundamentals are good for anybody whether you are a veteran or young player,” Pinkel said.
Players spent the majority of Saturday’s practice working on position-specific drills, such as receivers running routes, defensive linemen working on tackling form and defensive backs working on catching balls.
“You are not anything without your fundamentals,” Ekwerekwu said. “No matter how good a player you think you are, you have to start with fundamentals. You have to start with the basics. It’s good to work on that stuff everyday and we should continue to do it.”
Martin Rucker said the drills help players get back into football mode after about two weeks off.
“It helps you hone your skills back in, get back to the basics and go from there like you have been,” Rucker said.
There were a few small scuffles at practice, which Rucker attributed to having full pads on. Rucker said they are usually caused by players one-upping each others’ intensity.
“It starts as a little altercation then everybody has pads on so everybody wants to start banging,” Rucker said. “It’s just a big funny thing and you talk trash in the locker room about who got whupped.”
Rucker was not involved in an altercation, but he did try to provoke some during a one-on-one drill where linebackers and defensive lineman hit offensive lineman.
“I like to instigate,” Rucker said. “I like to watch from the outside and make everybody else fight for my enjoyment.
SMITH UPDATE: Brian Smith will not play in the Sun Bowl, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said after practice Friday.
Smith, Missouri’s career sack leader with 31.5, fractured his right hip on Oct. 21, against Kansas State. Pinkel said Smith will now focus on rehabbing and getting healthy for a senior all-star game. Smith, a defensive end, earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors on Sept. 18 for his four sacks against New Mexico.