An improving sophomore who finished 2006 strong and a star recruit ready to make his long-awaited debut are ready to add two more weapons to a Missouri offense already filled with them.
Danario Alexander, the improving sophomore receiver, had just four catches in the first nine games of last season and went six weeks without a catch. But against Nebraska on Nov. 4, he broke out with four catches for 84 yards. He had 11 catches in the final four games of the season, including a 74-yard touchdown in the Sun Bowl.
“I just had to sit and wait for my time,” Alexander said. “It came and I took advantage of it.”
At halftime of Saturday’s spring game, Alexander was honored as the most improved receiver on the team. It capped off a productive spring for Alexander, who moved up from No. 2 to No. 1 on the depth chart with his strong play.
“That caught me by surprise,” he said with a huge smile. “I wasn’t expecting to get the award. That was crazy. I’m very happy about how I’ve played. I worked hard to get where I’m at right now, and it paid off.”
Alexander had three catches for 42 yards in Saturday’s Black and Gold Game. The offense, the black team, rolled to a 72-27 win. The offense made things look easy, racking up 550 yards.
“The ball’s flying around everywhere, and people are making a lot of plays,” said tight end Martin Rucker. “It’s just fun to be a part of.”
Jeremy Maclin, the star recruit, may have had the most fun of any Tiger in black. After coming to Missouri as a standout of the 2006 class, ranked the No. 24 receiver in the nation by Rivals.com, Maclin suffered a knee injury in summer practice that forced him to sit out the entire season. On Saturday he finally got to play in front of Missouri fans for the first time.
“It felt good,” he said. “I’ve been dying for this opportunity. I know it’s not a real game, but it’s the closest it’s going to get for another three months. It’s a good experience. I’m glad to be here.”
Maclin has shown flashes of his playmaking ability during the spring, but admits he has had a tough time waiting for balls to come his way on an offense with several experienced receivers.
“I need to work on patience,” he said. “I kind of have a tendency to rush things. It’s hard, but that’s why I’m here. The next level is going to be even harder, so I have to learn to be patient. Like coach told me, my time will come.”
Maclin said he knows Missouri fans have been waiting a long time for him to take the field, and he says they will enjoy what they see.
“I won’t disappoint,” he said. “That’s all I can say.”
Senior William Franklin, the team’s leading receiver last season, said having talented young players such as Alexander and Maclin around helps the veterans stay focused.
“You always got to worry about losing your job,” he said. “I go out there with the intensity to get better every day.”
Franklin said he tries to be a mentor for younger players, but the best advice he can give them doesn’t involve technique or strategy.
“Always play fast and go hard,” he said. “That’s what separates good players from average players. They’re learning and they’ve got a lot of time left, so they’re going to take advantage of what they’re learning from me and other guys like Rucker, Chase (Coffman).”
Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said he has never had an offense with so many weapons.
“We hit on three freshmen last year,” he said. “Really high guys — Alexander, Perry and obviously Jeremy Maclin. It doesn’t always work out that way, and the two tight ends (Rucker and Coffman), I wish we could clone them and keep them here a long time.”
Saturday’s game did nothing to detract from the excitement that surrounds the Missouri offense as they prepare for the 2007 season. When asked how good they can be, the eyes of several Tigers in black light up. Maclin perhaps expressed their thoughts best Saturday. He shook his head, smiled and made a simple statement.
“It’s almost scary,” he said.
NOTES: Starting quarterback Chase Daniel saw limited action but took advantage of the playing time he did get. He completed eight of his 11 pass attempts for 95 yards and capped off his only full drive with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Franklin. Chase Patton took most of the snaps, completing 15 of 24 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Dominic Grooms also had two touchdowns, completing a three-yard score to tight end Jon Gissinger and running for a 26-yard touchdown.
Linebacker Steve Redmond, named the team’s most improved linebacker at halftime, led the defense with nine tackles. Safety Travis Cardoza came up with the day’s only turnover, intercepting a Patton pass in the third quarter.
Other players to receive most improved honors at halftime were tackle Dain Wise, defensive end Tommy Chavis, cornerback Castine Bridges, safety Pig Brown and Patton.