The top three quarterbacks on the depth chart are, in reverse order, Corbin Berkstresser (13), Maty Mauk (7) and James Franklin, at practice on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. Photo by Karen Mitchell.
There’s a different feel to the start of football practice this season than a year ago. While last year had the excited anticipation of life in a new conference there were also already starting to be signs of what 2012 would be like, with several key parts of the team injured, or coming back from injuries and nowhere near 100 percent.
Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator
On the other hand, 2013 starts with the team at full health, or as close to it as can be expected. James Franklin, whom a year ago was coming off one injury and would face several others through the course of the season, starts this year the picture of health. So does Henry Josey, one of the nation’s top running backs before the catastrophic knee injury two seasons ago.
And coach Gary Pinkel is going to do what he can to keep it that way. While no team can completely avoid injuries, the Tigers have changed the way things are done in the hope of keeping injuries down to a minimum, including going with just one practice a day instead of two.
“It’s just about recovery,” Pinkel said. “(After) two years of doing everything we’ve normally done, I’m just hesitant not to do something different. It’s about recovery and staying fresh, staying on your feet. Two years in a row like that, it’s been difficult.”
“We’re trying to be pro-active,” Pinkel said in referring both to his practice change and some of the rule changes in the NCAA this year meant to address injury risk. “We’ve gotta protect the people, or the game’s gonna get hurt bad. The athletes are bigger, stronger, faster, tougher than they’ve ever been and the explosions are bigger. We’d hate for a tragedy to happen before we make these changes.”
Pinkel even displayed a sense of gallows humor about the injury bug his team faced the last two years, telling reporters “I told the guys to stay healthy. Maybe they’ll listen this year.”
And the decision to end the two-a-days has the support of players
“Oh, thank God,” said L’Damian Washington with a smile. “You get fresh legs, especially going into Week One against Murray State.” But Washington also said this doesn’t mean his coach, known for holding some old-school attitudes, has gone soft and cuddly.
“Coach Pinkel isn’t going to back down on toughness, he always talks about ‘when men were men’ and he’s not going to make practice soft.”
While the team hasn’t lost any key players to injuries, there was one ugly little surprise for the Tigers on the first day of camp, as junior defensive back Duron Singleton was AWOL and evidently will not be joining the Missouri team after all. Pinkel wouldn’t address repeated questions on the topic, stating rather sharply that it was “personal issues.” Whatever caused this, it’s a loss for Mizzou. The website 247 Sports had Singleton ranked as the No. 1 junior college safety in the nation last season, and he was expected to compete for a starting nod at safety.
There weren’t many other roster surprises on Thursday, but for those following special teams, there was an unfamiliar name on the depth chart. Preston Soper was not listed among the recruiting class of incoming freshmen, but Soper has joined the team and is already listed at No. 2 on the depth chart at punter, behind Christian Brinser. Soper had chances both as a punter and placekicker in practice yesterday, and showed a pretty good leg. On a couple of occasions he recovered from snaps that were fumbled to get off big, booming punts. Soper, a native of Muskogee, Okla., and honorable mention All-Stater, told kckicking.com that he had “preferred walk-on” offers from Oklahoma State, Baylor and Tulsa but picked Mizzou after talking with former Tiger kicker Jeff Wolfert and considering the schools’ academics. On his Twitter page (@kickerboy14). Soper brags that he’s going to be an electrical engineering major.
The offensive line also reflected changes we’ve been expecting, with starters from left to right listed as Justin Britt, Max Copeland, Evan Boehm, Connor McGovern and Mitch Morse.
Morse was one of a huge number of offensive linemen who dealt with injury problems last season, but said he’s ready to go, saying he felt 100 percent. “The nerves are gone, (the knee) feels better than I thought it would. I need to work on my technique, I’m a little rusty, but I’m looking forward to it.” Morse said he and Copeland would share some leadership role in the line, but he described the situation with the line as being “like a conference room, everybody has a say. It’s not just one guy, everybody has great ideas.”
There’s an unusual wrinkle in the offensive depth chart. No, not at tight end where the move of Sean Culkin ahead of Eric Waters is significant, but not unexpected. What’s a little harder to explain is that in addition to Culkin, the starters at the wide receiver slots are Marcus Lucas, Dorial Green-Beckham, Bud Sasser, and L’Damian Washington.
Wait a minute…four receivers, and a tight end, five linemen, a running back, a quarterback…Four plus one plus five, and one and one is two…carry the…um…
Yup, that makes 12. Obviously, there will be different sets, some with a tight end in the game, others with the inside receiver or “X” position on the field. So, why list both? Probably for no reason any more complicated than how odd it would look for Mizzou not to list their X receiver as part of the starting lineup. See, that’s DGB’s position. You really want his name among the starters, even if the first snap doesn’t feature him on the field.
The team chose its 2013 team captains during team meetings Thursday, and again there’s nothing terribly surprising here. This year’s captains are E. J. Gaines and Andrew Wilson from the defense, while the offensive captains are James Franklin and L’Damian Washington. Pinkel congratulated the four, saying that being chosen a captain during his senior year playing at Kent State was one of the proudest achievements of his playing career.
Pinkel did mention—in fact, mentioned several times—that being a captain does not mean these four have a starting slot guaranteed. While, in theory, it could apply just as much to Xavier Smith as he chases Gaines or the guys fighting for Washington’s receiving slot, it seems aimed primarily at the QB discussion.
Why this is being talked about so much is a bit of a mystery. Maybe Pinkel is trying to give Franklin a little nudge, though that seems awfully unlikely as Franklin’s one of the hardest working guys on this team. Maybe it’s a psychic encouragement to Maty Mauk and Corbin Berkstresser. Maybe it’s a message to the press to stop trying to guess who will start, to just shut up and wait to see who steps out with the starters after kickoff against Murray State on Aug. 31. Whatever it might be, I continue to hold firmly to what I’ve said all along on here—the press and outside observers are making far, far too much about the comments about “open competition,” and unless something extraordinary and unfortunate happens over the next 29 days, James Franklin WILL start against the Racers.
Darren Hellwege is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association and the Football Writers Association of America